FURY: MR. JOLIE TAKES ON THE KRAUTS IN A MOBILE METAL BOX
In WWII United States Armor forces took a hell of beating. The slaughter of tankers was almost as great as that of airmen or frontal assault/amphibious infantrymen. NAZI armor forces were highly experienced and had better safer tanks with larger higher velocity main tubes than the American Army heavy combat tank, the M4 Sherman. We learn all that in a title card at the start of Brad Pitt’s WW2 action flick Fury.
Fury of the title of the movie refers to the M4 Sherman tank, and the crew that goes with it, that SSGT Don “Wardaddy’ Collier (Mr. Jolie) has commanded since North Africa. We are introduced to SSGT Collier via him killing a German officer on a horse with a knife in the hauntingly beautiful opening sequence of the movie. The Fury and its crew – gunner Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia Labeouf), driver Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) and the mangled dead body of the unnamed assistant driver, are all that remains of their platoon. For the moment they are stuck in a nightmare land straight out of a Hieronymus Bosch painting, full of dead soldiers, horses and the twisted and blasted hulks of American and NAZI tanks. The Fury crew is feverishly trying to get the tank operational and shoehorning character introduction and development into the first few minutes of the film. To no one’s surprise they managed to make it back to their company and move on to the next battle.
Before they go gallivanting down the road, the crew of the Fury are given a new assistant driver, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) an 8 week wonder that was not trained as a tanker but as a clerk. In April 1945 the hell-bent for leather 2nd Armor Division needed tank crewman more than they needed clerks so Norman is now a member of the Fury crew and the rough introduction sequence begins. This is the first 15 minutes of the movie and it is for the most part all the direct character development we will get.
From there the rest of the movie, except for a diversion with two German females in a captured town, is a series of almost unconnected set pieces that lead up to the big finale of the Fury crew defending a crossroads, by themselves, from 300 hardcore SS troopers.
As far the action goes, director and writer David Ayers has always shown a talent in this direction. The action is clear and easily followed. He doesn’t rely on shaky cam to get the Hollywood desired “immediacy” feel of combat. Instead he uses the natural claustrophobia of a tank interior juxtaposed against the infantry maneuver elements and other tank’s mobility in open space to tell the story of a fight to great effect. Ayers also effectively showed the innate brutality of urban combat in the cramped twisting turning ancient streets of a German town where every rooftop, alleyway and window is a potential ambush site.
The acting in Fury ranges from serviceable to outstanding. Mr. Jolie as “Wardaddy” is playing a role he can do in his sleep. He never particularly shines as Collier but he is effective as the symbolic parent to a disparate group he has kept alive for over 2 years in violent combat. “Wardaddy” is a man turned violent and consumed by hatred of Germans and his need to keep his men alive and he pays that toll as shown throughout the movie. However we do see glimpses of the real Don Collier throughout the movie, a surprisingly erudite man who speaks German and has decent instincts as shown by his interactions with the two German women in their apartment.
Bernthal and Pena are more or less playing stock characters. Pena is the semi cholo and Bernthal is the hardcore southerner. Both enjoy the spoils of war, cheap sex (all you needed was a bit of food or a few cigarettes) and looting. They are also the token “tough guys “ with rough edges and not a lot of redeeming qualities. These two are serviceable in their “not asked a lot of” roles. The real standout here is Shia LaBeouf. He infuses his stock character with a life all its own almost as if he is in a different movie. I found myself watching his character more than anyone’s even “Wardaddy” who is always front and center in every scene.
All the technical aspects of Fury, the direction, the cinematography, the acting, all that sort of thing were all pretty well on point. The problem that Fury has is in the writing and the varying tones that Ayers tried to fit into the overall narrative. What I mean by tone is this, he had at least 4 different ideas (that I saw – there were probably others I missed) that he tried to force on the story, sometimes in the very same scene, which lead to a very incomplete feeling settling over the script. Below are the ideas he tried to make happen and did not. If he had stuck to one of two I think he would have had a home run on his hand, instead he hit a stand up double. These are in no particular order.
- A hero tale with the very flawed SSGT Collier at the center/men on a mission story
- The effect combat has on a man
- A clichéd filled homage/tribute to 1950’s style WWII movies
- Lastly and the biggie, a post modern deconstruction of WWII and 1950’s WWII style movies as viewed through the prism of a post Afghanistan/Iraq/9-11 world
All in all Fury is a good movie but ultimately a frustrating one. It could have been great if Ayers had decided to err on the side of less is more. So I give Fury a middle of the road recommendation. If you are looking for a brutal war flick this might be for you. If you are looking for a complete movie then this will disappoint. It’s decent but not as great as it thinks it is.