Fury Movie Review
I’ve mentioned before that Hollywood has really started to struggle with war movies in recent years, with a few rare exceptions. While this is for a number of reasons, ranging from Hollywood politicizing any that cover recent conflicts, to treating older wars with a bland repetitiveness usually reserved for Call of Duty, perhaps the biggest one is that Hollywood simply doesn’t know how to make a movie that shows warfare at its grimmest and bloodiest anymore. Unless you’ve got someone like Spielberg or Tarantino at the helm, Hollywood is just more comfortable dealing with capes than they are with camouflage and cannon fire.
Hopefully, David Ayer and Fury will change that. Ayer, himself a Navy Veteran, cut his teeth working with Anton Fuqua on Training Day, and most recently directed the tragically overlooked Schwarzenegger-vehicle Sabotage, has earned a deserved reputation for having a great handle of cinematic conflict. If that weren’t alone, Fury was already attracting buzz for its decorated cast, notably Brad Pitt, for the studio actually bumping up its release date, and there’s even some awards buzz. While there also has been some debate over some content in the movie, Fury also turned the heads of war movie buffs for being the first tank-focused movie in a very long time, and with bigger budgets and better special effects, the once thriving subgenre is primed for an upgrade.
So do Brad Pitt and David Ayer deliver a brutal glimpse of the darker side of the good war, or contrary to the title, is this movie all sound and no fury? Gear up and hop aboard the half-track my dear readers, as I review Fury.
In the closing days of World War II, the front lines have finally reached the heart of the Third Reich, and the Nazis have proved even more tenacious as they stare defeat in the eyes. For the grizzled veterans of the US 2nd Armored Division, it means more of what they’ve been doing since Operation Torch, killing as many Germans as they can, pausing only long enough to bury their dead. It’s into this brutal brotherhood that young Army clerk Norman Ellison is thrust into, called upon as a replacement driver for the crew of a Sherman tank called “Fury”, first tasked with cleaning the blood off the seat of his recently departed predecessor. Increasingly horrified by the task before him, and disgusted by how the same take has warped his bloodied tanker brothers-in-arms, Norman and the crew of the Fury face an ugly truth – if war is Hell, what does it make of the men who survive it?
From a narrative perspective, Fury manages to be both notably bold and disappointingly routine at the same time. It gets off to a slow start, introducing our cast bit-by-bit – whom as I’ll discuss more when I get to casting, for the most part don’t develop beyond a cliché five-man-band – but it gets going as they finally get moving along with the plot, that follows this band of brothers as they approach the inevitable finale of both the movie and the war. It doesn’t help that the movie doesn’t seem to know if it wants to follow war movie clichés or subvert them, but by and large, the movie manages to, better than most recent war movies certainly, highlight the grim truth of war, that its death and destruction, not just heroics and almost never clean victories.
If there is one area that Fury truly stumbles, it’s the casting and the characters, which considering the movie revolves around the lives, personalities and fates of five men stuck in a Sherman tank behind enemy lines, is a mistake the movie could ill-afford. This is the biggest area where sticking to clichés crippled the movie, as I wasn’t kidding when I said the characters are your standard-issue five-man-band – for example, you’ve got the religious one, nicknamed Bible, and the thuggish redneck called “Coon-ass”, who never much evolve beyond those two characteristics. Jon Bernthal, here stuck playing Coon-ass, is a fine actor, but when he has to spend the better part of two hours doing a forced Southern accent being unlikable to an absurd degree, he doesn’t get much of a chance to show it. Meanwhile, that kid from the Transformers movies, who plays Bible largely by doing religious things and trying not to have his glued-on mustache fall off, just proves why he isn’t famous anymore.
Worst of the bunch though, is Logan Lerman, as our protagonist/audience viewpoint character Norman. Lerman has long been one of Hollywood’s interchangeable and forgettable bland twenty-something actors they keep insisting is one big break away from being the “next big thing”, but having been given his biggest break yet in Fury, he’s more out of his depth in a war film than his character is actually fighting one. His performance alternates from dazed/just going through the motions, and forced to an almost comical extent, which comes to be an issue given so much of the film’s narrative rests on him transitioning from greenhorn to bloodied veteran, Lerman dropped the ball. I’d kill to have seen what an actor like Dane DeHaan could have done with the role – instead, we get to watch the kid from Percy Jackson fumble the ball.
That said, Brad Pitt is incredible in his turn of the tank’s commander “Wardaddy” Collier, as he treads territory familiar to his turn as Lt. Aldo Raine, though here he plays more of a magnificent bastard than an inglorious one, though one certainly wishes he had the degree of talented co-stars he did with the Basterds. He chews the scenery, turns on a dime from passive to frenzied, and he delivers every line with such convincing intensity that it’s simply a joy to watch. Fury works as a narrative only because Brad Pitt was driving it, and he deserves an Oscar nomination for his trouble. Michael Pena also deserves special mention, managing to get in some of the movies best lines, and being the only other member of the cast that really clicks – it’s a real shame the movie didn’t give him much to do.
Where Fury truly manages to impress however, is the direction, design and especially the action choreography. Director David Ayer has proven himself one of the best directors in Hollywood when it comes to old-school action movies, and here, he truly comes into his own. Sticking to largely practical effects – including the use of actual tanks leftover from World War II, and hand-to-and combat so real a stuntman was stabbed by a bayonet – Fury manages to be the visually impressive, and certainly the best tank movie in more than a generation. The movie also doesn’t shy away from showing war at its grimmest, with the mud, the blood and the dismembered corpses all on full display. The combat scenes are brisk and thrilling, especially a finale which could well be one of the year’s best.
In many ways, Fury is a very frustrating movie for me to review. Fury is, at once, a brilliantly styled and directed war film, and stupendously clichéd mess of a war film from a storytelling standpoint. What it gets right, it knocks out of the park, but Fury manages to drop the ball far more than it should have. It’s especially irksome that so many of these flaws could have been fixed with some simple changes – polish the script a little, handle casting a bit more seriously, and Fury could have been the best war movie in years.
Ultimately though, the reason the movies flaws bother me so much is that what does work about Fury is just so good it borders on truly great. Those nagging issues are what keep Fury from attaining a place in the ranks of classic war films, but not from managing to be a good one in its own right. As it stands, Fury’s got more than enough to make it one hell of an intense ride, and the movie’s climax alone is more than enough to win an endorsement from me, even if it doesn’t quite deliver on all its promises or live up to its full potential.