Man…I wanted to LOVE ‘Fury’. As any reader of my past reviews will note, I do love me a good war flick. And ‘Fury’ is most certainly that…a GOOD war flick…NOT a GREAT one. There are a few things about this movie that work against it, but there is one, over all, that stands out as the Prime Detriment…and that’s The Characters. But I’ll get into that in a bit.
First off, The Story:
As the opening title cards inform us, we open in Germany, in April, 1945, as the Allies are forcing their way across the country on their way to Berlin…and victory. We meet the 5 Man crew of an American Sherman Tank, christened ‘Fury’. Led by ‘Wardaddy Collier’ (Brad Pitt), these guys are worn thin from the constant pressure and violence, and have just lost their Assistant Driver to a horrific wound (we see a bloody part of an intact face lying on the deck…minus the head it should be attached to…*shudders*). As the beleaguered tank squad licks its wounds, a young replacement named ‘Norman’ (Logan Lerman) is assigned to take the role of the recently exploded crew member. Norman has been a soldier for 8 weeks and is only skilled as a clerk. ‘Wardaddy’ and the rest of the crew sense the kid’s unease and inexperience and, like sharks to blood, set themselves upon him in an effort to toughen him up, to have him prove himself capable of getting ‘dirty’, to protect and serve the team. Along the way, the crew endure a series of violent encounters with the hated SS, who are determined not to go down without a vicious fight.
So, as I mentioned before, the major detriment to the overall quality of this flick is The Characters. No bullshit…there isn’t a likable one in the whole lot of them. It’s not to say that the acting is bad (it’s not), or to say that the casting was ‘off’ (it wasn’t), but it’s more of how writer / director David Ayer (‘Sabotage’) has written them. He’s penned them to be repellent bullies who’ve essentially had their souls eroded by the carnage they’ve had to face over the past 3 years. From the first time ‘Norman’ tries to introduce himself to the crew, he’s mercilessly ground down by them. Jon Bernthal (‘The Walking Dead’) is the biggest prick of them all, with his ‘Coon-Ass’ character coming off as a dangerously ignorant and ill-tempered psycho who would be worthy of a bullet, German OR American, for the way he conducts himself. Even the seemingly sympathetic ‘straight man’ character ‘Bible’, played with surprising ‘gravity’ by Shia LaBeouf, has his mean-spirited moments.
‘Mean-spirited’ is a pretty good way to describe the ‘flavor’ of ‘Fury’. I understand that war is hell, and David Ayer is trying to let us know that he KNOWS that, in a rather heavy-handed fashion. There is NO levity at all here. Even when there is the threat of a light-hearted scene, Ayer is sure to bring the hammer down on it and lay the nastiness on thick. There’s a sequence in the middle that demonstrates this perfectly, and is one of the key pieces of writing and editing that work against the movie.
After a ‘push’ further into Germany and a nasty firefight, the remains of the tank squad take over a small German town and make themselves at home, in a brutish fashion. For whatever reason, ‘Wardaddy’ spots a woman in an apartment window and drags ‘Norman’ along to investigate. They force their way into the woman’s home and aggressively search the place, locating her pretty young cousin hiding under a bed. In VERY little time, ‘Wardaddy’ and ‘Norman’ basically start playing ‘House’ with the two ladies, with ‘Norman’ going so far as to nervously fuck the cousin in a bedroom while ‘Wardaddy’ shaves in the kitchen ( dramatically showing off the stereotypical ‘grievous battle scars’ that coat his back, while he’s at it.). As the group sits down later for breakfast, the rest of the tank crew suddenly invade their illusion of domestic bliss and terrorize the women while showing no respect for their Commanding Officer, as they are drunk n belligerent. This segment reminded me acutely of the ‘Apocalypse Now’ Redux version and, specifically, the completely useless and plodding ‘Willard Smokes Opium with the French Chick’ scene that Coppola wisely omitted from the original 1979 theatrical release. It just brings the flow and momentum of the movie to a grinding halt…and THIS scene is another just like it. Ayer should’ve removed the entire sequence and kept the pace moving. Hell, I even picked out the exact spots where he could cut it and the audience would never know. Plus, the Bernthal ‘Coon-Ass’ character REALLY has his moment to shine in this sequence, and had me wishing that someone would abruptly pull out a gun and blow his hillbilly brains out all over the wall behind him. From that scene on, THAT character would get NO sympathy from me for the rest of the run-time, no matter what he did. So, in a nutshell, there are really no sympathetic characters to root for. Even ‘Norman’ is tough to like for a good while, as he spends a healthy chunk pissing and moaning like a little coward. There was another part that made me cock my eyebrow, but it’s more of a technical aspect.
There’s a sequence where one of the crew, out on ‘look out’ duty, spots an approaching column of SS soldiers and sprints back to the tank to warn the others. From there, the crew launches into a ‘setting up a makeshift defense’ montage VERY similar to the one in the 3rd Act of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ (1998). Problem is, the editing wasn’t done well enough to convey the geography of the area and what seems like it should be only minutes to spare, to mount this defense, drags on for a LOT longer than you would think that they had before the Germans would be on them. Added to which, there is one of those ‘Day suddenly cuts to Night’ examples of shitty editing. It literally goes from daylight to pitch black in a handful of cuts; cuts that were meant to be showing us Real TIme. It felt sloppy and uneven.
So those are pretty much The Greatest Hits, when it comes to the really obvious ‘bad stuff’.
Now for The Good. ‘Fury’ focus’ on an aspect of WW2 that we (or at least I) haven’t seen portrayed in any real detail on The Big Screen. Tanks in movies always seem to be the ones who roll in at the last minute to save The Day, or to cameo for a key scene or as something incidental in the background dressing. Here, the focus is the tank and it’s crew. The novelty of that alone helps this one stand out in the plethora of WW2 movies that have emerged in the 70 or so years since that conflict ended.
Speaking of conflict, the battle sequences are where ‘Fury’ shines. They are frantic, loud and violent. More than once, I found myself genuinely excited by the action on screen, and a couple times, slightly repulsed by some of the inventive battle gore. People are blown to pieces, shot full of bloody holes, mashed into pulp beneath tank treads, burned alive and stabbed to death on a frequent basis. Many tanks get blown sky-high and there is a really cool sequence where two Sherman’s try to out-maneuver a determined SS Tiger tank in a muddy field. ‘Muddy’ also reminds me that this flick is grimy and bleak. There is mud, water and smoke EVERYWHERE. I felt like I needed a shower when I got home after the show. EVERYTHING in this one carries a shade of grey, and I don’t just mean that figuratively. 80% of the visuals have a steely grey veneer, mirroring the dehumanization of the men. It’s nearly Kubrickian in it’s execution.
The Sound Design is REALLY good, with gunfire and explosions thundering effectively at the audience as the carnage unfolds. I did find that there were times when the dialogue was borderline unintelligible, but that may have just been the Audio Settings at the theatre I saw it at.
The visuals were sweet, with a good portion looking like it was filmed ‘on set’ and ‘in camera’. I particularly liked the way that tank artillery was portrayed, with many glowing tracer shots ricocheting off into the distance at high speed as they miss…or simply bounce off, their targets.
All in all, ‘Fury’ is a decent addition to the litany of WW2 films already out there, marred by completely unsympathetic characters across the board and some pacing issues. The attention to period detail is admirable and the battle sequences are thrilling and violently bloody. It’s tough to recommend this one for The Big Screen, stemming from my annoyance at not having any characters to truly root for amidst the chaos. I would say wait till you can check it out on a kick-ass Home Theatre System…it’d be (mostly) worth it then.
“It will end, soon. But before it does, a lot more people have to die.”