Movie review: ‘Fury’
Directed By David Ayer
Starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Jason Isaacs, Brad William Henke, Jim Parrack, Xavier Samuel, Scott Eastwood
Rated R, Action, 135 minutes
Written and directed by David Ayer, this story of both heroic and criminal war deeds overlays one of male bonding between the members of an American tank crew needing to rely upon one another in a theater where they often find themselves without support.
In April 1945, as WWII comes to a close in Nazi Germany, the Allied effort to push through Hitler’s last defenses requires that a few troops, along with supporting tanks and their crews, combat a desperate enemy.
One aspect of Ayer’s film depicts horrors previously unknown to generations of viewers. In small towns throughout the countryside, German children were conscripted to fight. Those parents attempting to prevent this travesty, as well as some reluctant children, were publicly hung by Nazi SS officers, their strung-up corpses left in full view bearing signs that read, “coward refusing to fight for her people.”
Brad Pitt leads the cast, starring as Sgt. Don Collier (nicknamed Wardaddy), a daring, stoic tank crew commander. Serving under him are: Mexican-American driver Gordo (Michael Pena), Southern redneck munitions expert Coon Ass (Jon Bernthal), scripture-quoting gunner Bible (a moving performance by Shia LaBeouf) and fresh-faced assistant driver Pvt. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), plucked from the typing pool and given no prior training.
The film’s attempt to take us on Ellison’s journey sputters as we watch his transformation from an idealistic rookie to a seasoned veteran during a few short days. Almost immediately Wardaddy forces Ellison to shoot an SS prisoner in cold blood, and, soon after, the rookie learns the heavy cost of hesitating to perform certain job duties.
Filmed with gritty, matter-of-fact realism, the players and equipment are slathered in mud and punctuated by blood as men are blown or cut apart by artillery fire and corpses are left to rot in the knee-deep mud. The more Ellison sees the less he thinks of Nazis as “people too,” a change promoted by Wardaddy and his men. While the film successfully persuades viewers that war is hell and SS officers must be dispatched to hell with all due speed, it also chronicles a horrific loss of humanity that leaves us somewhat cold.
Wardaddy and his crew care for one another and the occasional innocent but are beyond shedding even one tear for the 10 year olds they are obliged to gun down.
Some skirmishes, especially one between a dueling pair of tanks, manage to move as slowly as the boxy machines can maneuver yet coax us to the edge of our seats, breathing hard. In the panic of battle we don’t fully comprehend the claustrophobic tank’s interior, but what we do absorb intrigues us.
With its righteous cause and united Allied front, WWII stories should find curious audiences for generations to come. Whether viewers emerge from such films feeling enlightened, damaged or numbed by violence is the director’s choice.
Ayer opts for some of each, showing us flawed characters molded by war atrocities. According to this account, war deserves to be counted among the possible states of being. While we can somewhat understand how they must feel, without touchstones to reveal who these men were before they became soldiers, we can’t fully appreciate the degree of their lost humanity because war and survival demand change. As men return from war today, we see the personal price such change requires.