Brad Pitt in World War II
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Fury is arguable one of the best war films ever made in the sheer, visceral horror of World War II that’s presented. It all takes over a period of twenty-four hours, which adds a sheer terror to the amount of gore that’s splattered all over the screen but also limits the film’s character development potential. There’s absolutely no apology in this entire film for the grim and gore, nor should there be. War is a horrible, terrible experience with little glory left behind. There’s no morality within the specter of the battlefield, only survival. Fury captures that essence incredibly. If you are going into this film with the expectation that it will be as “safe” as Saving Private Ryan, be wary. This film is absolutely unflinching and frankly it’s all the better for it. Visually the film sort of reminds me of Apocalypse Now, where as the closer and closer the true destination arrives, the crazier everything gets. In Fury, as the day comes closer and closer to its end, the film becomes stylized and nightmarish, as if Hell is creeping up upon them as twilight’s curtains fall. Kudos to Roman Vasyanov’s choose to use film cinematography and not digital that gives the film the visual texture that allows for those curtains to feel as real as they do.
Such a hell isn’t conducive to anyone, let alone those who experience it for the very fist time. For the 2nd Armored Division, this one day doesn’t begin as a unique one. It’s just another slog of horror that’s now in the forests of Nazi Germany instead of the deserts of North Africa. Fury’s newbie is Normal Ellison, a young typist who is terrified at the first sound of a gunshot. Yet it isn’t his lack of experience or jumpiness that makes him the pain in the arse of the entire division. It’s his compassion. There’s little room for empathy on the battlefield, where every passing second is just another moment where you’re alive. And for the seasoned men of the division, you see a German in uniform, you shoot him. It’s not a question of whether the man in uniform is “evil” or not, it’s a simple mechanism that ensures your survival for at least one more moment. Ellison’s never experienced that second by second battle for survival. So when he thinks of the Germans, it’s a more nuanced portrait compared to the black and white narrative that drives violent conflict. Nor can Ellison bring himself to shoot teenage Nazis. Then at what point does the difference become insignificant? It’s a shockingly traumatizing moment when the leader of the division, Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), drags Ellison over, forcing him to shoot an injured Nazi. Ellison’s world is shattered and his innocence crumbles to the ground. And no one can hear it but himself, the bombastic sounds of war obscuring everything else.
Speaking of bombastic action sequences, Fury is almost impeccable. Every frame rocks with harrowing horror and David Ayer’s camera leaves little to the imagination. And the sequence with the tanks and a Tiger tank in the midst to boot stands out as one of the greatest war sequences in all of cinema, each little detail standing out amidst the plethora of carnage. The film is extremely grime and its tactile nature allows for the more gruesome details to stick out, like the numerous decapitations. There’s no romanticization found anywhere, not even when Ellison is cleaning a tank. He suddenly stops, a part of a recognizable human face lying amidst the tank. But perhaps the greatest scene in the entire film that is timed to absolute perfection is the breakfast scene. It’s a quiet scene in all consideration, comparing it to the loud terror that accompanies so much of the film. But it’s a powerful scene of quiet, building up tension in every single moment, playing on the perceptions that this is somehow a safe place, where the war that is raging with such fury outside won’t be able touch them within. In all the best ways, it’s reminiscent of the French plantation scene in Apocalypse Now but it registers its own unique sense of style and tension. Just as you feel that the clock is ticking away and the scene is overstaying its welcome, tragedy strikes.
The acting in Fury is largely phenomenal. Brad Pitt is tough, merciless, and hardened and he plays it with aplomb. Logan Lerman gives an excellent performance as the young Ellison as he traces the horrors of war over a single day. And Shia LaBeouf comes breaking out of his recent malaises to give a tremendously nuanced performance as Bible, the heart of the group. The role requires an engaged emotional response and LaBeouf proves he’s up to the task. But if there’s an actor who gets short shaded, it’s Jon Bernthal from AMC’s The Walking Dead. His Grady is over the top and you do buy him in spite of him being a complete and real human being, despite the overwhelming amount of violence around the division. One can’t really blame Bernthal for his character’s flaws, the writing and direction simply isn’t there strongly enough to keep him robust and continuing in a complicated fashion despite his performance. Perhaps it’s simply because of the structure of the film, but while you can empathize with the division’s circumstances, you can’t really root for most of them. Their behavior towards Ellison especially that it takes a bit of the intimate struggle out of the narrative.
The largest flaw is that there’s a lack of a thematic story structure outside of “war is hell.” The film explores that really well, but you’re not sure of where the film is sort of heading, what the plot structure is. As the film closes, it feels like a day in war and perhaps that’s what it was going for. But with that empty hole in its frame, it doesn’t feel as cohesive as the film should. With the twenty-four hour plot structure, there’s an unfortunate necessity of speeding up Ellison’s emotional journey from rookie to fighter within that timeframe. Despite Lerman’s performance, it sometimes feels that his arc is being sped through for the sake of time and the film suffers as a result. At the end of it all, Fury is an excellent war film that shows the experience of war at its most harrowing. It’s well directed and exhibits largely excellent performances. To its immense credit, Fury never exposes gratuitous violence and a result, so much feels incredibly authentic. It’s gorgeously filmed and photographed, the haunting images it stayed with me well past the credits. It’s a cinematic experience that should not be missed.
MPAA Rating: R
Director: David Ayer
Produced by: Bill Block, John Lesher, Alex Ott, Ethan Smith, David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal, Jason Isaacs, Scott Eastwood
Music: Steven Price
Cinematography: Roman Vasyanov
Editing: Dody Dorn
Production Company: Le Grisbi Productions, QED International, LStar Capital, Crave Films
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Dates: October 17, 2014 (United States)
Image Courtesy: Yahoo! Movies