DIR: David Ayer • WRI: Juliette Towhidi, Cecelia Ahern • PRO: Simon Brooks, Robert Kulzer • ED: Tony Cranstoun • DES: Matthew Davies • CAST: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal
War is bad. This mantra has been hammered into the minds of cinemagoers since the dawn of the medium. Not that we’ve ever actually learned from it. With violence so prominent in not just popular entertainment but in the very world around us it’s easy to become desensitised to a man’s screams as he writhers in agony on screen. Every now and again, however, a film is made that offers such a raw, unflinching insight into the actual horrific reality of warfare that it promises to linger in the minds of its audience long after the credits roll. David Ayer’s Fury is one such film.
It’s April 1945 and the Allies are pushing ever closer into the epicentre of the Nazi regime in the German heartland. Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Pitt) commands a five-man Sherman tank called ‘Fury’ through a ravished countryside; his team find themselves surrounded by death and brutality – but it’s just another day’s work for the battle-weary crew.
Fresh faced Norman Ellison (Lerman) has spent the war in a cosy clerical position but the death of the Fury’s co-driver propels him into a position with a lot more action, excitement and, of course, danger whether he wants it or not. As Ellison faces combat for the first time he discovers the animalistic savagery that conflict induces in people, soldiers and civilians alike.
One could say there is a lack of subtly in Ayer’s approach to violence; there’s never any allusion to it, we get it served straight up cold on a plate. For the most part I would say this is a fair argument. That tank looks like it’s about to roll over a soldiers head… You’re going to see that soldiers head explode in a bloody mess no question. People being burned alive… Ayer’s got you covered and then some. But let’s be honest, the men on the battlefield were not spared a quick camera cut away from their friend’s bullet ridden bodies so why should we? Stuff like that happened in WWII. It happens today. For all the gore in this film (and yes it is exceptionally gory, you know, like war) it never felt like it was being exploitative. Ayer captures the audience in a vice, proclaiming ‘See! See! This is what happens in war!’ The film’s imagery is shocking yet it is by far its strongest element. Because the film has problems. Boy, does it have problems.
Many fascinating true stories of bravery against impossible odds emerged from the hell that was the Second World War. Fury is not one of them. The events of the film are not historical fact they are the product of Ayer’s imagination. Now, of course, not all films have to be based on a true story just because they’re set in a historical time period. However, it does make the film seem all the more ego-stroking.
One of the biggest themes the film was trying to convey was that war consists of individuals with personalities, likes, dislikes, friends, lovers and what not rather than just faceless masses of marching brigades. And yet the humanity of the American characters is only confirmed through the dehumanisation of the German soldiers. We’re supposed to feel deeply saddened when an Allied troop dies, yet feel a sense of smug satisfaction when a soldier on the Nazi side perishes – it’s an uncomfortable contrast and somewhat undermines the overarching concerns of the film.
Ayer had the perfect opportunity to explore the grey area of conflict but instead decides to stick with the comfortable (but inaccurate) ‘we’re the good guys; they’re the bad guys’ shtick. Disturbingly enough it also means that the atrocities committed by American forces-such as gunning down children are somehow justified in this context. At one point the by now not so dewy-eyed Ellison actually screams out “Fuck you Nazis! Fuck you!” A lack of nuance in the depiction of violence is forgivable but this is just bad dialogue.
The film is also riddled with clichés. Wardaddy is the gruff, all-American, Nazi-killing badass, who is also intelligent, thoughtful and even sensitive. Pitt delivers a pretty solid performance but it’s difficult sometimes not to hark back to his other Nazi-killing performance in 2009’s Inglorious Basterds. You must agree: if you make more than one Nazi film where you’re the slaughtering hero it’s a fetish. Lerman is also quite watchable but his character does stink of the old younger-boy-joins-an-established-group-to-prove-himself-and-is-then-taken-under-the-wing-of-the-leader-cos’-he’s-like-the-son-he-never-had trope. All the other characters also play to a certain ’type’- the ignorant swamp hillbilly, the pious preacher (though I must say LaBeouf gives it his all here) and the ethnic token. That said, the tension that would arise between five men stuck for so long in such an enclosed space is captured surprisingly skilfully. They’ve all been driven a little mad by the horrors they’ve seen yet remain steadfast to their goals and, ultimately, to one another.
We get glimpses of real brilliance and ingenuity in certain parts of this film. It’s just frustrating that Ayer could not sustain this throughout all aspects of Fury, depending on tired clichés to carry the rest. If nothing else, this film will stamp one distinct message into your mind: war is bad.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Fury is released 24th October 2014