Fury (2014) Film Review from the 58th Annual BFI London Film Festival, a movie written and directed by David Ayer, starring Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal. Jason Isaacs, and Scott Eastwood.
David Ayer, the film’s writer/director, best known for his work on Sabotage (2014) and End of Watch (2012), took a group of mostly marketable actors and put them together in a World War 2 epic, or at least that was the plan. I had high hopes for the film going in. Brad Pitt has a fairly good track record at making memorable movies, add to that, the addition of Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman, and the film has enough talent to make even a half decent film. Having said all that, the film was exactly what I had expected it to be. An enjoyable film though it fails to live up to its own expectations. It’s not Saving Private Ryan (1998), though, it does try to be. The film has several positive points. However, it seriously lacks the same emotional grit that could have made it a classic.
The film is set in April 1945, during the end of World War 2. It tells the heroic tale of an army sergeant, who along with his five- man team and a Sherman tank, marches on into Germany to end the war. The latest addition to the sergeant’s team is a young clerk, who has no experience fighting. The film takes the audience through the various stages of hell soldiers have to endure, and the difficult choices they have to make. It gives a glimpse into how those choices change a person.
The opening scene sets the tone for the entire film. Even though, the film is supposedly set in April 1945 (spring), all the visual indicators seem to suggest, it is in fact, winter. The first scene sees a lone German officer riding a white horse through a field of dead bodies (the contrast of the white horse riding between dirtied, bloodied corpses was a splendid visual), as he approaches what he believes to be the remnants of a destroyed tank, he is ambushed, and that is when we get our first glimpse of Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier himself. His aggression becomes a sign to watch out for during the rest of the film.
Wardaddy is joined by his ragtag team of misfits. There’s Boyd ‘Bible’ Swann, played by LaBeouf, he is the tanks trigger man. A devout Christian, whose firm attachment to God may be brought on by the suffering and chaos he’s had to endure during the war. His faith is his crutch, what’s keeping him sane and alive. I suppose in times of trouble we all reach out for what comforts us. LaBeouf, despite his recent public troubles, was excellent.
Joining him and Wardaddy are Grady Travis, played by Bernthal, and Trini Garcia, played by Michael Peña. Grady and Garcia are old members of Wardaddy’s team, people who’ve travelled with him for years and there is a sense of communal harmony and even friendship between the group. Grady, is the tank ‘warrior’, saying he has anger issues would be an understatement; he continually crosses the line of human decency. Grady is meant to be a reflection of how war can change a person, but there are several indications that Travis was always despicable. This is evidenced by his constant mental torture of the youngest team member Ellison (Lerman), the pleasure he takes with each Nazi kill, and his treatment of German women, whom he sees as trophies.
Garcia, is more of a marginal character. Coming in to the frame every now and then to muse about something disturbing or to leave newly acquired intel (basically what he’s heard about the war efforts in different parts of Germany). He also enjoys ‘hazing’ Ellison, perhaps, not as much as Grady though.
Ellison, is the surprising antagonist of the film. The inexperienced youngster, who’s pushed into fighting on the front lines, when he’s clearly not capable to do so. Over the course the film the character transforms from a scared young man, who flinches at the sight of blood to a soldier who, by his own admission, enjoys killing Nazi’s. Ellison is meant to be the moral compass of the film. He’s the conscience in the tank, unfortunately his well minded character is forced to accept the situation he is in and his transformation is one of the high points of the film.
The five men in the tank roll through a world, seemingly on the edge of breaking. The war maybe ending soon, but that’s not something these men know. For them and Wardaddy in particular, surviving takes a back seat to winning.
There are scenes in the film which are hard to forget, even after just one viewing. The one that I keep coming back to is relatively late on in the film. After capturing a German soldier, Wardaddy instructs Ellison to ‘pull the trigger’. The frightened look on Lermans’ face is haunting. You can see the innocence in his eyes just fade away. He cannot pull the trigger, even though; he doesn’t really have a choice in the matter. He himself sees it as a weakness, but I saw it as one of the horrors of war. That was where his character started to change. You could see it in his eyes from that moment on. As I said before, the film does have its moments.
It’s difficult to criticize the film’s cinematography. The film definitely has an aged look to it. It shows Germany as a cold, muddied country, I suppose to better illustrate the dirty work that War essentially is. The theme of the film is a different matter altogether. It constantly shifts to the point where you’re not really sure what the meaning behind the film was at all. One moment you’re being told war is bad and the next the team is rolling on forward gleefully blowing up anything in their way.
Overall, the film was quite good. Without giving too much away about specifics, Brad Pitt was an excellent leader for the team. His character shifted dimensions more times than I could count, I either liked him or hated him. It was never easy. Whereas most of the other characters largely remain the same during the film, Wardaddy/Collier shows different sides to his character based on the situation. My favourite scene of Wardaddy, was when he showed his gentler side to a German Lady who was hosting him and Ellison. His character showed a level of decency I didn’t think he possessed. In that scene, Pitt’s character muses over the uncertainty of war and mentions how rare moments of peace and quiet are.
There are a few reasons to see this film. Excellent visual effects aside, the leads are very good. Pitt and Lerman are a joy to watch. My main criticism of the film was the absence of a clear theme and the lack of emotional development. I’d still watch the film again, and I think that’s probably the best thing I could say about a film.