“War never ends quietly” is the tagline of this film. Which seems very appropriate because the chosen vehicle for the loud noise of this film is a tank. In 1998 Steven Spielberg transformed the genre with “Saving Private Ryan”. A gritty film universally praised for its accurate and real portrayal of battle in WWII. This would open the flood gates of WWII material in entertainment as a whole. It starts out initially being close in tone to “Saving Private Ryan” but after 15 plus years you see the genre take a shift. No longer was the focus on grounded realism, but instead on idealistic satire. Quinton Tarantino 2013’s Inglorious bastards being a prime example (Still a great film!). FURY is an emphatic return to the tone of “Saving Private Ryan”. It just may be the most realistic portrayal of WWII I have ever seen. It’s brutal, shocking and mostly uncompromising in the message it tries to communicate.
Fury takes place in the waning days of World War 2 during the invasion of Nazi Germany. You follow Don ‘WarDaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt) as he commands a five man Sherman Tank affectionately named Fury. His veteran crew consist of Main Gunner Boyd ‘Bible’ (Shia LaBeouf), Loader/Mechanic Grady ‘Coon-Ass'(Jon bernthal) , Driver Trini ‘Gordo’ (Michael Pena). The crew recently loses its 5th man and is replaced with recently enlisted Norman. Norman has never seen the inside of a tank or been exposed to any battle. Needless to say, the war isn’t waiting on anybody. Norman is set to have one hell of a first day as the Fury immediately embarks on another mission in support of the allies push into Germany.
WarDaddy and his crew are not thrilled with the prospect of having a very green Norman join their crew. His complete lack of experience is alarmingly noticeable and they have reservations if he will be able to do his job effectively. Norman barely has enough time to clean the blood of his seat on the tank before they are assigned a new mission. A search and rescue operation followed by the invasion of a near by town.
I had high hopes for this film after my initial viewing of the trailer. World War 2 is actually a difficult time period to get right. Not only does it command a certain amount of respect and reverence, but it has such a large scoop as well. It is very easy for directors to get lost in the vision. When I realized Fury was about a single tank unit, I was very intrigued. Not only was this a vantage point I was unfamiliar with. It presented an opportunity for me to see a very focused story. We know the result of the war, that is never the interesting part about these films. It is the conditions, it is the violence, it is the moral choices or lack there of. The bigger your scope , the further you get away from each of these poignant points. Fury focuses on the ensemble cast much of the same way “Saving Private Ryan” did. The best thing about both of those films is how the characters aren’t of vital importance to the war effort. They have jobs to do sure, but their mission doesn’t hold the entire war in balance. Most soldiers were cogs, never quite realizing the bigger picture. Yet still having to suffer the consequences of a violence they never quite get to understand. The cast of FURY delivers in spades this sense of lost, confusion, rage, hopelessness and hopefulness all at the same time.
Brad Pitt performance as WarDaddy will remind a lot of people of his role in 2013’s Inglorious Bastards. The resemblance is there in more than a few ways, but it’s with much more depth and impact. He is a battle tested leader and is well-respected, but is still just another man barely hanging on. You can also see the PTSD on his face. His pain is reflected in some silent moments, which seems pretty appropriate. As a leader he isn’t going show this side to his men, he has to be a rock for their sake. Following right after is an inspired performance by Shia LeBeouf. His character Bible, is the religious core of the team, which sticks out even more because the team doesn’t seem very interested in God. He is well spoken and generally thoughtful, which is ironic considering he has the most violent job on the team as the tank gunner. Pena’s and Bernthal round out the veterans with some convincing portrayals as well. Lastly is Logan Lerman as the rookie recruit Norman. His performance isn’t great but it is very believable. This was probably the most critical role, as he is mainly a vehicle for the audience to learn things. Norman could have been an incredibly annoying character. His innocence and apprehension is explained, he isn’t just a fresh recruit out of tank school. He was training to be a military typist but instead was assigned to this tank unit. The confusion is apparent, and more so his efforts to make sense of his confusion. His tutelage under WarDaddy and the Fury crew is in real-time and unforgiving all the same. He eventually and affectionately earns his nickname “Machine” from his crew later in the film.
Visually the film accomplishes a lot. It is un-forgivingly violent and loud. Your treated to a pretty violent spectacle within the first 2 minutes of the film. If your familiar with the visceral nature of the Normandy scene from Saving Private Ryan, this films feels like that for the majority of the whole movie. A few tense tank battle sequences are very exciting to watch. It’s just an aspect I think many people aren’t familiar with. You get a clear glimpse at the kind of damage and devastation these machines can do. How they can in some instances single handedly change the tide of battle. It also holds a lot of weight because if a tank ever goes down, those are 5 souls gone, seemingly in a blink of an eye. The film doesn’t shy away from this fact. This is why the crew dynamic is so important, the failure of one would likely lead to the downfall of the entire group. The shots from inside the tank do a great job of displaying the literal closest of the team. They are seemingly sitting right on top of each other. The word that comes to mind is “uncomfortable”, which is probably exactly the feeling Ayer is trying to get across.
I used to have a major gripe with this film, and it mostly centered around the narrative and back story. We don’t learn much about any of the main cast. We probably learn the most about Norman, but a majority of the team is unexplained. Why is he called WarDaddy? You could guess and you’d probably be right. There isn’t much for any of the characters to really work with. This use to bother me, until I considered how strongly silence is used in this movie. I think a lot of stuff is left unexplained, not because we need not know, but it wouldn’t make sense for the characters to explain. Minor spoiler, Norman finds out WarDaddy has some pretty bad burn scars on his back. Normal movie exposition would almost demand Norman ask him about this and for Brad Pitt to give a treaty eyed story as to its origin. Then something great happens, he doesn’t ask him about it all! Why would Norman need to ask, he has only known him for a few hours, and what could he possibly say that he didn’t get from looking at the scar itself. The film wears these awkwardly silent moments like a badge of honor. It’s a very tense type of silence, where your always waiting for the other shoe to drop. The shoe has to drop, because everyone in the film is missing a few screws. You don’t make it through this kind of ordeal without losing something along the way. The silent acceptance of things lost and things to be lost. The entire film actually takes place in a single day, and considering that Norman is the vehicle for the audience to learn about team fury. What you do learn is probably consistent about what you could learn in a single day. Time isn’t wasted with extraneous exposition which after I thought about it served as a positive instead of a negative.
The film commands attention from beginning to end. It is a grounded look at the conditions of this conflict, physically and especially mentally. I would easily consider this the best WWII movie certainly of the last decade. The fact that it kept making me think of “Saving Private Ryan” is more of a compliant than I could write out. The cast is in sync, mainly because they are generally not in sync. This is a family of necessity and of need. The sense that these five guys wouldn’t be friends under normal circumstances is clearly felt. However, they are all they have, and Fury is more than a tool, it is home.