09 December, 2014

Review: "Fury" (***½)

Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Brad Pitt, Michael Peña & Jon Bernthal star in "Fury"

Very rarely do I enter a theatre completely blind to what it is I’m about to see. I’m too greedy, too curious and far too impatient for the kind of diamond-like discovery that comes with digging in the dark. That analogy may have fallen a bit flat, but the point I’m trying to make here is that this was my experience with “Fury;” I went into the theatre knowing only that it was a war movie and that Brad Pitt was in it. I hadn’t heard too much about the film, and I never really felt any pressure to see it. I hadn’t heard anything too great about it, though to be fair, I hadn’t heard that anyone despised it, either. The buzz surrounding “Fury” was essentially non-existent… for me, at least. The only reason I did see this movie was because it was a very, very rainy Sunday and, quite simply, I love the movies. Plus, I have less a tendency to watch period pieces in the comfort of my own home. Had I not seen “Lincoln” in theatres, I never would have watched that movie; and I’m glad I did see it, it’s a very good movie, but I have some sort of mental block against them. They’re not very easy for me. All that being said, “Fury” was a movie I thoroughly enjoyed.

“Fury,” a film written and directed by David Ayer (“End of Watch” director and writer, “Training Day” writer), chronicles the lives of five tankers near the end of a muddy, gritty, death-riddled World War II. With this story (fictional in its characters, though based on events that are likely to have happened), Ayer is commenting on the wars of our past in a way that makes them wildly appropriate mirrors to the wars of our present. It’s a horror story overflowing with chaos and authenticity and unsightly terrors of humans who have no other choice but to commit them. I think Ayer makes a statement with “Fury”—there is an ugliness in victory and in the soldiers that fight tooth and nail to claim it. It’s not easy to be a hero, most times it’s quite ugly, and even when there is a win, victory comes at a very high price. Being a solider is the hardest of jobs, though our five primary characters, in their slangy, shorthanded nature claim, more than once, that being a solider is the 'Best job I ever had.'

“Fury” is severely grim and wary and replete with an authenticity that characterizes any combat film as worthy. It’s the story of a laudably intrepid quintet of tankers amidst the chaos of Hitler’s desperate last stand. America is on the brink of victory and Germany refuses to concede. Brad Pitt is the war-scarred and slightly floppy-accented leader of his Sherman tank sardines; he goes by 'Wardaddy.' Accompanying him from North Africa to Germany and a few places in between is a cast offering no shortage of talent.

Shia LaBeouf drops his quick-talking, cute-boy nature to become 'Bible,' a scruffy mustached, grimy brown-toothed, Bible-verse spitting tanker. The ever-impressive Michael Peña acts as 'Gordo' an extra-thirsty sharpshooter who despite the nastiness of the war is able to somehow maintain a convivial, decent-hearted nature. Next we have Jon Bernthal; he’s most recognizable as Shane in “The Walking Dead,” and here he adapts a similar laconic, gruff persona called 'Coon-Ass.' He’s very sharp around the edges. And rounding out the group, we have Logan Lerman as Norman Ellison, a 17-year-old typist thrown into a war in which he claims to have no business participating. He’s new and terrified and unfamiliar and acts as the perfect audience surrogate; I sat in the theatre identifying with him completely. I nodded my head approvingly at his non-killer instincts and over-emotional, reactionary attitude. Because that unwillingness to succumb to his environment, that terrifying unfamiliarity, that’s relatable. I can understand that. I can get on board with that, especially at the beginning of the film when I’m just as new as he is.

But soon that changes. There’s a scene in which Wardaddy (Pitt) forces Ellison (Lerman) to shoot a man. A German man begging for his life, pleading to be spared, crying and spitting and muttering in fear. American soldiers have formed a horseshoe around Wardaddy and Ellison. They’re taunting Ellison, laughing at his ineffectual naivety. His hand is shaky and unwilling to aim his gun at this German. Wardaddy literally holds his hand as Ellison shoots the man, still refusing and crying loudly as he does. It’s after that moment that Ellison becomes if not trigger happy than at the very least trigger ready. In a scene a bit later in the film, we catch Ellison yelling 'Die Motherfuckers! Die!' It’s at that moment the film lost me a bit. That transition seems a bit too quick; I don’t really buy it. But maybe personal development in war really is that fast, and it’s my resistance to that getting in the way here.

Fury is a film that doesn’t necessarily need a big screen. You could probably wait until it comes out on DVD, but if you’re like me you may not want to do that. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets a nod or two when Oscar nods come out. It’s a very worthy film.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Quick side note: If you’ve read some of my other reviews, I’m not sure what my taxonomy is as far as ratings go. I’m not sure what a 1 would be or a 5 would be on my scale. I mostly score on how I’m feeling at the moment. For example, I loved the rom-com “How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days,” just like I loved Ayer’s LAPD drama “End of Watch,” and I’d probably rate them both 4 out of 5 stars, but they’re so different they can’t even begin to be compared. It’s a tricky system that I’m doing my very best to navigate.

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