Mark Reviews Movies

Fury (2014)

FURY (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: David Ayer

Cast: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Jason Isaacs, Scott Eastwood

MPAA Rating: R (for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout)

Running Time: 2:14

Release Date: 10/17/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 16, 2014

Fury is an unforgiving tale of warfare centered on the thesis that battle brings out the worst in men. We've grown accustomed to the scenes in war movies in which a soldier or two will tell his comrades a story about his life before entering the war. That never happens in writer/director David Ayer's film. These soldiers, who are deep in Germany in the final month of armed conflict in Europe during World War II, are usually preparing for or in the heat of battle. If they have a moment of relative calm to themselves, the stories are usually about this fight or that horror. A man's perspective of what's important changes quickly when men are dying all around him.

That's the film's argument, and it's told with a crisp sense of clarity through the character of Norman (Logan Lerman), an Army clerk who has never even seen the inside of a tank but is transferred to a tank platoon in the heart of enemy territory (When a soldier asks which way the front is, another responds that it's all around them). American tanks, an opening title informs us, were outgunned and under-armored compared to their German counterparts. Ayer then shows us this fact in a tracking shot that follows a German officer riding a bright white horse against the gray, fiery, and smoking graveyard of a tank battle. The only remnants of the fight are the hulking, metallic shells of combat vehicles that have become makeshift coffins for the men who operated them.

Out of one of these shells emerges Don (Brad Pitt), the tank's commander, who tackles the officer and repeatedly stabs him, giving his men enough time to fix the tank and get back to base before heading out again. Norman is put on the crew because one of the tank's gunners was killed in the last battle. The new guy's first job is to clean the interior of the tank, and in the process, he happens across an unmistakable chunk of the face of the man he's replacing.

We likely haven't wondered what these men did before the war, but in that moment, it becomes clear that no one's going to be telling stories about home during the film. Would a man dare to make vulgar the memory of his parents, his sweetheart, his wife, or his children by talking about them inside a war machine where his buddy's face had been ripped to pieces?

All of these men have stories of home. Norman's experience informs us that the only stories that matter are the ones of the war—the ones that, if these men are lucky enough to survive the war, they will never tell when they get back home.

When we first meet Norman, he's a quiet, non-violent young man who pauses when he spots a German soldier—just a kid, Norman explains, trying to justify his lack of action—scurrying through some trees alongside the platoon. The delay is long enough for the soldier to fire a rocket launcher at the tank in front of theirs, and then Norman must listen as the soldiers inside the tank scream in agony and watch as one soldier decides to shoot himself instead of burning to death. As a form of punishment for what happened or training for what's to come, Don forces a revolver into Norman's hand and orders him to execute an unarmed, surrendered German officer after their next battle.

Norman is a moral man in an amoral situation, and morality is a luxury that will get the guy next to him killed. We imagine all of the soldiers in this tank have gone through something similar to what happens to Norman. With the rest of the tank's crew, we're only privy to the end result. Boyd (Shia LaBeouf) is the Bible-quoting, born-again Christian who alternates between intimidating those who don't hold his beliefs and, in one scene, uses his faith as a way to comfort a dying man. Trini (Michael Peña) starts a chant that this is the "best job I've ever had." Grady (Jon Bernthal) is a bad-mannered, short-tempered guy who, until a late scene, seems to resent Norman's sense of decency most of all.

All of them have changed at some point, and after capturing a village, there's a lengthy scene in the apartment of a German woman (Anamaria Marinca), who is housing her cousin (Alicia von Rittberg), that shows how far gone these men are. After the obvious tension of the initial encounter, the scene starts with Don, Norman, and the women playing house.

The woman prepares a meal. Don shaves (and, in the process, shows that his back is covered in scars). Norman and the cousin make their way to the bedroom because, as Don puts it, "They're young." When the rest of the crew arrives, the initial tension returns to the scene. These are men who have seen and experienced too much to escape into the playacting upon which they've stumbled.

That scene is a vital respite from the rest of Fury, which is unrelenting in its ferocity and nihilism (It's no surprise that the scene in the apartment comes to a bad end). Ayer stages the battle sequences with strategic clarity, and we obtain a certain understanding of why these characters are the way they are when we witness scene after scene of these tanks doing the only thing they were designed to do: to move straight into danger and probable destruction. They're on a suicide mission, and these characters have come to embrace that inevitability. How else can we explain the film's climax, in which the men decide upon a tactically unnecessary last stand against a squadron S.S. officers? The only need to engage the enemy is within them.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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