Director: David Ayer
Cast: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña, Xavier Samuel, Jason Isaacs, Scott Eastwood, Anamaria Marinca, Alicia von Rittberg, Jim Parrack, Brad William Henke, Kevin Vance, Laurence Spellman
RunTime: 2 hrs 14 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Violence and Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Official Website: https://www.facebook.com/Fury
Opening Day: 22 October 2014
Synopsis: April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered and outgunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.
War isn’t pretty. Nor does it kill discriminately. Hollywood woke up to that reality with Steven Spielberg’s ground-breaking masterpiece ‘Saving Private Ryan’ slightly more than 15 years ago, and hasn’t looked back since. Set within the same great conflict in modern twentieth century history, David Ayer’s ‘Fury’ possesses the exact same sensibilities. It is gritty and realistic, bloody and brutal, grim and sobering; to put it simply, it’s that kind of war moviewhich doesn’t paint its subject any differently from what it is in real life, and it does so with such persuasion that it deserves to be mentioned among the very best.
To be sure, Ayer’s propensity for raw authentic portrayals of masculine behaviour under fire wasn’t born and bred on this battlefield. Indeed, his preoccupation began on the streets of South Central Los Angeles, which formed the setting for his ‘Training Day’ script that won Denzel Washington an Oscar as well as the equally well-received LAPD drama ‘End of Watch’ two years ago. But Ayer truly comes into his own as a filmmaker with his latest, an apparent work in progress for many years during which he did the research on every little meticulous detail that shows on the screen – most prominently with the use of five M4 Sherman tanks and one German tiger in the production.
While it takes its title from the sobriquet of a particular Sherman tank with the four-letter word emblazoned across its barrel, ‘Fury’ is less about what happens outside the tank than inside the battered vehicle. Within those walls are five men led by Sgt. Don Collier, a.k.a. Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), a battle-hardened commander who has been fighting Germans through Africa, Belgium, the Netherlands and now on their very home soil. His crew includes gunner Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), a religious man who prays over the Germans he kills; Boyd’s loader Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal), a short-fused belligerent hillbilly who is the most unhinged of the lot; and driver Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña), the sole Mexican-American among them.
In a broad sense, ‘Fury’ does share some similarity with ‘Training Day’ – both films unfold from the point of view of a rookie; in the case of the former, a young recruit named Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), sent to replace the tank’s fifth crew member, the assistant driver, who has just been killed. Barely eight weeks in the Army and trained as a clerk typist, Norman simply doesn’t belong. “You’re no good to me if you can’t kill a German,” Wardaddy bellows, whose idea of initiating him into the necessary truth of war is to put a gun in Norman’s hand and force him to squeeze the trigger on a captured S.S. officer. Ayer uses Norman as the audience’s surrogate, plunged into these horrific necessities and forced to put aside conventional notions of decency and humanity in order to survive.
“Ideals are peaceful; history is violent,” Wardaddy explains to Norman when they get a brief respite in a German town which they liberate from the scourge of the Nazis. An interlude in the middle of the film that sees the two men chancing upon two German women in an apartment, the fortyish Irma (Anamaria Marinca) and her beautiful young cousin, Emma (Alicia von Rittberg) makes that point emphatically, the eventual denouement of the latter marking one of the most unexpectedly moving turning points in the movie. That sequence is also notable for being one of the most nuanced, in particular a segment in which the rest of Wardaddy’s team stumble upon the two preparing to partake in a meal of eggs and ham with their female hosts.
Ayer’s commitment to character is evident in this sequence alone, and he remains steadfast to it from start to finish. Though the characters read like archetypes for the genre, they are surprisingly well drawn. Each has developed his own defence as a response to cope with the horrors he witnesses, and Ayer captures their buried feelings with shrill immediacy. Their roles in relation to each other in the team are also clearly defined, and their camaraderie is made up of a rough and unpretentious intimacy.
Yet what proves to be far more fascinating is the complex dynamic between Wardaddy and his men, the former assuming the role of the latter’s paterfamilias as he watches over the latter with a keen eye not dulled by his combat weariness. In many ways, this is an old-fashioned platoon movie, but inflected by a post 9/11, post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan, 21st century point of view, and that perspective allows it, despite its familiarity, to subvert and enhance old-school expectations and come across both fresh and gripping.
The same can be said of star Brad Pitt’s riveting performance, which is no doubt one of his very best. Though one may be tempted to compare it with that in ‘Inglorious Basterds’, Pitt loses the hipster jokiness of the former film for a much more grounded and compelling portrayal of the tough and quiet squad leader filled with intensity and charisma. His below-the-line team is exceptional, including an excellent LaBeouf, an edgy Bernthal and a quietly solid Pena. But the film is also anchored on the other end by Lerman, his horror and disgust a cracked mirror for the crew as well as a proxy for the audience, and the actor best known for playing the lead in ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is heartfelt to the point of being almost heart-breaking.
The fact that it resonates so immensely with us is testament to the power of this bleak and savage portrait of war. It is not about the honor, glory or majesty of heroes; no, it is simply about a fight for survival premised on the shedding of blood - heads are vaporized by mortar rounds; limbs are severed by bursts of automatic-rifle fire; and human flesh is charred by flames and shredded by shrapnel. Even so, it is a deeply sensitive exploration of the depths of hell in battle, shot with visceral and often shockingly grisly realism and driven by a top-notch calibre of actors you want to hear mentioned when awards season comes along. And when it’s time to write the history of Hollywood’s war movies, we’re sure ‘Fury’ will be mentioned among the very best.
(Gritty and visceral, this bloody and brutal depiction of the struggle among and within individuals cast into the necessities of war is a classic in its own right)
Review by Gabriel Chong