Another WW2 movie released in 2014 – see my reviews of Unbroken and The Monuments Men – that didn’t get a whole lot of attention. Is it possible the American film-going population is finally sick of movies about old wars? None of these movies is great but neither are they bad, which to my mind place them above American Sniper, which showcases a more recent war effort but also glorifies it.
Fury is about a tank crew in the final days of the war. Brad Pitt plays “Wardaddy”, an aging staff sergeant to a veteran crew: “Bible” (Shia LeBoeuf), “Coon-Ass” (Jon Bernthal), and “Gordo” (Michael Pena), who credit him with keeping them all alive. They’ve recently lost their fifth man so newbie Norman (Logan Lerman), a typist who’s never seen the inside of a tank let alone the ravages of war is drafted to join the gang. Pitt’s in charge of his tank, nicknamed Fury, but it’s obvious that the fury also comes from inside him. He’s angry at what he’s seen and takes comfort in abusing prisoners and killing Nazis. He counsels young Norman to do the same, but Norman doesn’t think killing prisoners is “right” and refuses.
After discussing the moral relativism inherent in A Most Violent Year, this movie had me thinking more along the lines of righteousness, and whether those ideals apply to wartime at all. The film does a brutally stirring job of showing good Nazis, bad Allies, sympathetic Germans, ignorant Americans, and everything in between. THIS is truth. This isn’t Clint Eastwood’s fanatical fanboy version of war, this is the real and harsh and horrid. One man may be both hero and monster. Both sides believe in what they are doing. Everyone’s afraid.
Director David Ayer put his actors through a controversial process, starting with boot camp, but also forcing them to live together in the tank, encouraging them to fight each other physically on set, and hurl verbal abuse at each other, while swearing them all to absolute secrecy. Shia LeBoeuf, never a stranger to controversy himself, took things a step further, pulling out his own tooth, cutting himself repeatedly, and refusing to shower for the duration of the shoot.
Did all of this make for a better movie? Certainly the tank stands in for their “home” and the crew as their “family”, with all the dysfunction and closeness and claustrophobia that brings. The violence is relentless. The tension is gut-clenching. But it’s the middle act that stabbed at me – how the Greatest Generation is merciful and merciless at war. Unfortunately, we get a little glimpse of anyone’s life pre- (or post) war and the characters feel a little one-note. Brad Pitt, kind of old to be a non-commissioned officer at this point, may also be a WW1 veteran, but in Fury, nothing outside the tank matters – or maybe they’ve just been at it so long they’ve forgotten who they used to be. Watching them go from one act of savagery to the next, it’s easy to believe that whoever they once were, they aren’t anymore. When we sent these men home (if they made it home at all), they were changed.
Available on DVD and Blu-Ray today.