Earned my respect not immediately, but fairly soon enough. Fury is a World War II snapshot with four superb protracted sequences in it, with Brad Pitt as the sergeant and commander of a tank. The gloomy grey look of the film is constant, and the film entire is about men tarnished in war. Some of the more immature teens in the film are just going to cry for more action. But there is a superb thirty minute sequence in the middle that is just dialogue, comprising of two G.I.s who have barged their way into the home with a German mother and a pretty young daughter. This scene is superbly written, just as many dialogue scenes in “Inglorious Basterds” were.
This long dialogue sequence by writer/director David Ayer (he’s known for “End of Watch” which had moments but I was not a fan of) gave me the shivers, mostly because I began to realize the morality of nearly all the men were askew. American comrades have just blown apart a German town with a few buildings still standing, a few civilians have hidden. Pitt as coldblooded as Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier barges in one of the tenements and finds the women. He brings along with him Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) who is one of those battle-shy soldiers who has found his way into war but never thought he would kill anybody. Norman and the teenage girl spend a few minutes together in the bedroom and find a mutual attraction together even through the language barrier. They are both scared they are going to die from this war, and with nothing to hold them back, they kiss. Maybe more. It’s not ideal love, but for the moment, time stands still.
The other members of Fury, the nickname of the American tank, have no etiquette when they enter soon after. One of them, played by Jon Bernthal, is something of a sociopath – he thinks the guys should take turns with the girl (we are not sure of how barbaric his limits are, he’s a wild card). They sit down first to food and alcohol which they indulge like slobs. There are many times Pitt could say something about their uncivilized behavior, but doesn’t. What is said and what isn’t said accumulates immensely to the scene, and when some opinions are finally made, they add queasy layers to the suspense.
Michael Pena and Shia LeBeouf are the other men, and LeBeouf in particular is finally becoming a worthy actor in recent films. We never get under the skin of his character. He has his nose in books, he makes sharp observations, he shows camaraderie when needed, he has something of a moral code but he doesn’t challenge others about their code. It’s precisely a good performance because we are never sure what he is thinking. There are a number of ways to interpret his performance, as can be decided by the viewer. If I can add anything, I think his character is aware that Americans are participating in incidental atrocities of war, and that it’s a fact of life, and if he’s lucky enough to survive the war, he has the power to think above it.
The movie uses Lerman as a paragon of innocence lost. The arc of the character is predictable, but no matter. The film has many original incidents and situations that are emotionally scarring. The final battle sequence which is also long, with the Fury tank – stalled and immobile but full of arsenal – taking on a battalion of German soldiers, is exciting but at the same time borderline video game-like preposterous. But Ayer is at least doing something different with the battle scenes, too. Some audiences are going to cry “FAKE!” but this is the first film since Russia’s “Come and See” (1985) that shows authentic muzzle flash from discharged weapons. Although Pitt and company blow away too many numbers at the end – hooray, I guess, for revenge violence on Nazis – I was sold regardless. Because it dramatically works, for whatever reason, I was roused by it.
I’ve seen so many World War II movies in my lifetime – American, German and French ones – that I can no longer remember or tell some of them apart. I have a hard time matching the titles on some of them if I run across scenes on cable. I do know that the thunderously violent German film “Downfall” (2005) about Hitler’s last days in his bunker while Allies infiltrated Berlin to smoke out the remaining Nazis, and Quentin Tarantino’s sizzling and dialogue-brilliant “Inglorious Basterds” (2009) are the two best WWII films of the last fifteen years.
“Fury” isn’t a masterpiece for it has a few dubious patches or overcooked strips of action. But at least it’s one that I’m always going to remember.
135 Minutes. Rated R.
MILITARY DRAMA / WWII / WINTER DESPAIR
Film Cousins: “The Guns of Navarone” (1961); “Come and See” (1985, Russia); “Saving Private Ryan” (1998); “Inglorious Basterds” (2009).