As before, we are now approaching the movie season where films start to draw away from the widespread audience blockbusters to the more personal drama films that are meant to be more relevant come awards season. That being said, Brad Pitt’s newest vehicle, Fury, aims to be one of those films that wins awards and makes a splash at the box office (a healthy buzz surrounding it makes the latter very plausible). Director David Ayer (who directed the fantastic End of Watch and wrote Training Day) has had quite the busy year in 2014. After a somewhat tepid response to his earlier film in March, the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Sabotage, Ayer moves away from the streets of Los Angeles and tackles something which feels a bit more personal and what seems like a labor of love for the director (had to be, since Ayer also wrote this film). Perhaps on the unfortunate side, Fury never achieves the ranks of being an excellent film but does succeed in the fact that it is technically fascinating and does contain a very compelling and simplistic story at heart. War movie buffs will certainly appreciate this one.
The story is a fictionalized account following a tank crew in the latter days of World War II. Deep in the heart of Germany, Brad Pitt and his crew are joined by a fresh-faced new recruit played by Logan Lerman, the audience’s window into the horrors of war. There has never been a war movie that has focused solely in tanks in recent years, the only one off the top of my head is Courage Under Fire and even that didn’t feature tanks as much. We follow Pitt and his tank, named Fury, around the German countryside as they embark on a day in the life of a tank crew, encountering several adversaries in the forms of mines, men, and of course, tanks.
The tank battles in this movie are a sight to behold. The sound a shell makes when it ricochets off of armor is so realistic you actually feel that you are planted in the battle. Every snap of a rifle, every boom of a shell, it all sounds like hellfire is whizzing past your head. You are going to be gripping your knees with tension when Fury comes across a formidable Tiger tank and hearing the rumble of engines, the clanking of the machinery, the light from the blasts. It’s movie making at its most immersive and it is utterly fantastic.
Steven Price (Gravity) embarks on his first movie since winning an Academy Award, Ayer thankfully not turning to his usual collaborator, the trashy David Sardy, for this go-around. As someone who loved the score for Gravity, I was anxious to see what Price would conjurer up for a period piece. It turns out, Price has made the best damn score that I have heard all year. There is a very ominous main theme, a hint of electronics, a stirring cello, and chanting in German during the dramatic bits. The layers to which Price executes the music is a testament to the young composer’s abilities and the end result is militaristic and very, very beautiful. It heightens the action and ramps up the suspense. The synthetic parts never overpower the orchestra and the chanting gives a very eerie feel to the whole mix. Just take a listen to the cue “Emma” on YouTube and tell me if that isn’t one of the best pieces of music 2014 has put out. I suspect another Academy Award may lie in Price’s future as he is quickly becoming one of my most favorite composers.
There are a few caveats that come with this movie so I’ll just get them out of the way. During the climactic battle scene, there are a few situations that may come across as rather implausible in terms of military tactics. It’s a shame that the movie has to resort to cliche from time to time but usually these situations are placed in the height of the action that you can ignore them without consequence. Sure, there are a few groaner lines now and then but again, they’re sparingly used and the audience should be able to suspend their disbelief at the execution.
Probably the one problem I had with this movie (not a terrible one, mind you) was that in the middle, when Fury and its company arrive in an enemy-held town, the pacing slows down to a crawl. After the shooting stops, you’re left with the men milling around and claiming whatever resources in the town as their own. It does provide an opportunity for the main characters to get developed but it could have been trimmed down somewhat and it wouldn’t have had any effect on the overall plot.
Speaking of which, let’s talk about the cast. Brad Pitt is on top form as Fury’s commander, he certainly embodies the look of a grizzled veteran that has seen too much war. Since this is Pitt’s second outing in a World War II movie in five years, you can spot the similarities between his character here and his one in Inglourious Basterds in an amusing way. He’s the father figure of the group, the stern leader who makes all the tough calls but loves his men and would do anything to protect them.
New to the group is assistant driver Norman, Logan Lerman’s character. His is the fresh-faced recruit that serves as the audience’s surrogate throughout this film. As someone who has never trained for combat, we see Norman slowly progress through the slog that is World War II, becoming desensitized to the violence along with him. Even his first assignment as part of the Fury was as traumatizing to him as actual battle, he had to go inside the tank and clean off piece’s of his predecessor’s face from the dashboard, causing him to vomit in response. His progression from a total coward to a capable gunner feels natural as we experience this foreign environment with him. As it is, Lerman does an admirable job with the material, competently encapsulating the manner of a man terrified of combat. His fear becomes our fear and we feel his horror when he is forced to execute an unarmed prisoner so that he can “get his feet wet.” So to speak.
The rest of the tank crew is also played by remarkable actors. Ayer reunites with actor Michael Peña in Fury, giving him the role of the main driver. Peña, unfortunately, is the most stereotypical of the characters in this film, but given how far stereotyping has gone in films thus far (*cough* Transformers *cough*) it’s an aspect I’m willing to overlook as it’s not completely overblown here.
Jon Bernthal (The Walking Dead, The Wolf of Wall Street) brings his chameleonic talents to Fury as a crazed gunner who lacks empathy and is seen as something of a sociopath. Interestingly, there are many layers to his character as he knows how bad of a man he is but he doesn’t care as he believes that he is beyond saving at this point. He knows the war has ruined him and he lets that drive his character, making for some interesting conflicts amongst the crew.
Perhaps the most surprising of the bunch is Shia LaBeouf’s pious gunner in the film. Odd personal life aside, people sometimes forget that LaBeouf is a very good actor who gets very crappy roles most of the time. Here, LaBeouf sinks his teeth into a very complex character, one who follows his religion for guidance but uses it to give his presence killing people a purpose. Actually, the amount of complex characters in a film like Fury is impressive and it shows when you have all these people cramped in one area. The conversations seem real, the camaraderie seems real, everything has a realistic aspect about it and that’s what makes Fury really work.
Of course, being a war film, there is a large amount of violence accompanying the images on screen. Fury pulls no punches in its depiction of slaughter but cleverly uses the dim and gritty lighting to take away the brunt of the gore but you still have a clear idea of what is going on. People’s heads pop like melons, men are bisected by machine gun fire, limbs fly in the air, and tank shells rip through steel and flesh as if it was nothing. Do not watch if you have a weak stomach.
If you’re a fan of war movies and Brad Pitt, you will enjoy this a lot. David Ayer is back in form crafting a realistic (with some exceptions) movie that aims high and hits most of those points. From the sound, to the score, you will be hard-pressed to find such a war film that is not afraid to show you how bad war can really get as it grabs you by the shoulders and throws you into the mix, helpless to fate itself. Fury shows us what men do when pushed to the brink, what they are capable of accomplishing in times of urgent need, and how their accomplishments resulted in our victory without lowering itself to be propaganda (thankfully). It may not be Best Picture material, but it is damn close.
Final Score: 86/100