FURY Review

Ernest Hemingway said, "Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime." Hemingway means to inform us of the repercussions of getting carried away with violence as power, but director David Ayer asks us to contemplate not the repercussions but the mentality it takes to execute such acts of war. Is the ruthlessness with which these men approach their actions acceptable? Is their matter-of-fact attitude towards taking a life understandable within the confines of the circumstances? There is never a moment in Ayer's latest effort, Fury, where we let ourselves become distracted by the action sequences or the curiosity of where the story is going because we know exactly where it's taking us and that, in many ways, is the only let-up the film offers as it's otherwise a consistently tense and mentally exhausting experience. In order to deliver this disjointed, but outwardly insightful look Ayer has combined a typical plot-driven narrative with large elements of a pure character study. The director clearly wants to depict the type of men and personalities it took to win World War II, but further than this it is about how they became these beings free of any kind of moral compass yet trapped in a mindset that left nearly every other human an enemy. When we look at history we see what we are taught in textbooks and reference what we learn in lectures, but the little details escape us, the unimaginable is left at that and the countless lives sacrificed are best forgotten as their bodies are lost in a sea of limbs. Carnage is a disgusting act of man that seems to settle little more than who has more men fighting for them and Fury gets to the heart of this ugly method that sees men, people just like you and I, transformed into these conditioned warriors that see things in nothing but black and white, all or nothing, live or die. It is in these hands governments put as much power as they can muster which naturally translates to the indestructible mentality of soldiers thinking of themselves as an exception while the talkers, the leaders sit back and hope for the best possible outcome. Fury commentates on the ugliness of war by laying waste to the idea those we call heroes couldn't feel less like one.

Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) confronts a superior after the assignment of his newest soldier.
WWII is coming to a close in April of 1945 but as Brad Pitt's Wardaddy sees it, a lot more people still gotta die. Wardaddy aka Don Collier commands a tank called "Fury" and its five-man crew, consisting of Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal) and Trini "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Peña). We meet the battle-hardened bunch as they push their way further into Germany after just having lost their assistant driver in battle. Upon arriving at a base they are delivered a replacement in the form of recently enlisted typist, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). It is clear the camaraderie between the tank crew is one not built on common ground, shared philosophies or because they actually like one another but more than anything on what they've been through together. Rather than being resistant to Norman or constantly comparing him to his predecessor the crew accept his fate as the next in line and go on about their business training him to protect himself as much as them. Norman soon makes a mark on his fellow soldiers when they discover both his lack of experience and his ability to still feel compassion. They are put off by his innocence and maybe even jealous of his ability to still feel anything, but they are quick to bring him up to par. In one scene in particular Wardaddy forces Norman to shoot a captive German soldier to break him of his fears and hesitations. While this initially drives a wedge between the commander and his newest crew member the bond between Norman and Wardaddy is strengthened when they stop in a German town and play house for all too brief a moment with a woman (Anamaria Marinca) and her young cousin Emma (Alicia von Rittberg). While this scenario is used to emphasize a complete loss of innocence on Norman's part it is the resulting scenes in which "Fury" is immobilized after hitting a landmine and three hundred German soldiers are seen approaching that Norman truly becomes a man and is somewhat given the ability to think redemptive thoughts.

For such a disgustingly violent and brutal piece of work, Fury is in itself a beautiful-looking film. Shot by cinematographer Roman Vasyanov (End of Watch, The East) he and Ayer capture the seeming aesthetic of war through the heavy smoke-filled atmosphere and a reliance on neutral colors such as beige, taupe, black, and gray as they appear to be without color and therefore elicit little emotion, and yet in many applications, these hues often have undertones of color which in this case are the wildly different personalities of our five-man crew. Behind the camera, Ayer still seems somewhat of a traditionalist in that he is able to competently capture the intended despite nothing in his style suggesting an exceptional hand or distinctive technique. Rather, it is in Ayer's dialogue and the way he sets up character moments that allow him to transcend the typical and more impressively convey the themes of his work. The themes and ideas rise to the top and become as evident as they are because Ayer wrote the original screenplay himself while the emotional impact is guided by Steven Price's effective score. By placing the emphasis on what type of mentality a man had to move into for such work allows the content to resonate more than the construction. What is almost charming about the film as a piece of art is that it's obvious Ayer wasn't interested in making a WWII movie that discusses why America was in the war, what the overarching goal was or even to focus on a specific mission, but rather to zoom in on a specific group of people and take a "day-in-the-life" type look. In coming at the event from this perspective it allows the movie to be driven by the developing relationships and character arcs that are key to us as an audience being let into this space and understanding the intent. These guys are not the most eloquent of speakers and sometimes we even question how much they understand the ramifications of their actions, but despite that, through them we understand the bigger ideas Ayer is playing with as he reinforces them time and time again by displaying fierce and bloody violence as a means to an end, as the extent these men's souls are destroyed in order to be saved.

From left: Wardaddy, Norman (Logan Lerman), Trini (Michael Pena) and Boyd (Shia LaBeouf) in Fury.
At one point Pitt's Wardaddy spouts off to Lerman's Norman with the thought, "Ideals are peaceful, but history is violent," serving what is as close as we get to a character talking about their feelings. Sure, LaBeouf's Boyd is the groups designated religious one, but more than anything he prays beside the dead bodies of his deceased brothers and looks into the eyes of those around him, usually on the verge of tears himself, knowing what they must do to see another sunrise. The least developed of the crew is Peña's Trini as he sits alongside our surrogate and tells him when to shoot, but his defining characteristic is that he likes to drink. On the other side of things is Bernthal's Grady who is as uninhibited as he is psychotic. Pitting these two traits almost against one another the actor comes up with a man slightly resembling his Walking Dead counterpart in that he isn't willing to take risks or put others before him while also giving us the complete opposite end of the spectrum from where we first meet Norman. As our link to this scarred and tattered world Lerman plays Norman as the wide-eyed innocent he is while convincingly committing to the arc that is meant to show how a man can go from the most virtuous of beings to that of the battle-hardened men he fights alongside. I've been interested in Lerman's work since his wonderful performance in The Perks of Being A Wallflower and after Noah earlier this year he turns in a performance here that while not as showy as Pitt's leading role is the more critical one in that it gives the audience an idea of just how easy it is to slip into being okay with the moral ambiguity of the situations he is presented with. Speaking of Pitt, he wisely chooses to keep this as distanced from the extravagance of Lt. Aldo Raine as he can, keeping things low key and serving simply as the father figure of the group that has put the pressure on himself by promising to keep these men alive. It is clear each of them look up to Wardaddy in a way, but the most affecting scenes are when LaBeouf consoles the stricken commander after his shell begins to crack. The performances all around elevate the slim story and implied ideas while the action sequences sustain the honesty of their choices and mentality. Fury isn't necessarily a great film, but it is an insightful one; keen on reminding us of just how dehumanizing and unavailing war is.          

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