Sunday, October 26, 2014

Fury: A War of Contrition

Fury: Brad Pitt and crew | A Constantly Racing Mind
C ivil War General William Tecumseh Sherman once said, "War is Hell." David Ayer ("End of Watch," "Training Day Training Day"), the writer and director of "Fury" wants to show us exactly that. In his new film, set in the last days of World War II Germany, a tank crew fights desperately as they roll into Germany on their way to Berlin. Brad Pitt ("Inglorious Basterds," "World War Z") stars as the leader of a five-man tank crew that has been fighting together since North Africa. While the film draws upon many war films before it, and at times may seem a bit clichéd, it is actually refreshing to have a somewhat realistic film that portrays the horrors of battle and spirit of patriotism, courage, and honor. Be prepared to sit through over two hours of action, the hell of battle, and the triumph of humanity over evil. "Fury" is rated R for violence, grisly images, and plenty of swearing.

In many ways, "Fury" reminds me of the John Wayne films that I grew up on as a kid. Sergeant Don 'Wardaddy' Collier (Pitt) gives the impression to his tank crew that he's not there to win any friends, but to get the job done. Collier's tank, with the words Fury painted onto the side of the Sherman's 75 mm gun is manned by gunner Boyd 'Bible' Swan played by Shia LaBeouf ("Lawless," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull") who purportedly cut his face to create a scar and removed a tooth for authenticity in this film. Jon Bernthal ("The Walking Dead") plays the loader (sets the timers and loads the shells into the gun) Grady 'Coon-Ass' Travis, while Michael Peña is Trini 'Gordo' Garcia, the tanks driver. Near the beginning of the film, we meet the crew after a disastrous battle where they lost their forward machine gunner. Upon arriving back at camp, we meet the dead gunner's replacement, Norman Ellison played by Logan Lerman ("Noah," "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters") a raw recruit with no experience through whose eyes we see the events of war unfold in front of us. For Norman, this is a coming of age film, that takes place in a matter of days as the war immerses Norman into its tragedy.

Some say the winners write the history, however, after many years of seeing WWII documentaries, and studying WWII, I had to reassure my wife, that much of what we saw on the screen happened. As we see through Norman's eyes, a clerk whose time in the US Army spans only a few months, the war is winding down, and Hitler saw defeat was near, he called upon the German people to fight to the last man, woman and child. Actually forcing them at gunpoint to take up arms. 

After cleaning out the remains of his predecessor, from the machine gunner's seat, we join Norman as Collier and crew take on their next mission of breaking through German defenses and "liberate" the next town on their way to the Elbe River. In "Fury," Norman, just a kid himself, finds himself in moral conflict upon firing upon what he perceives as kids, and the already dead. An encounter with kids dressed as SS soldiers initially wakes Norman up as they fire a rocket into the lead tank. Although Norman saw the enemy in the bushes, in fear, he did nothing. 

"You can't learn the easy way, you'll learn the hard way." John Wayne as Sgt. John M. Stryker (Sands of Iwo Jima - 1949) 

Fury: Brad Pitt & Logan Lerman | A Constantly Racing MindWhat I found impressive about "Fury" was not only Brad Pitt's performance, but how as a leader, embodied the spirit of John Wayne. After a battle that the "Fury," two other tank crews, and infantry forces, won by strategy and brute force, Wardaddy, wants to teach Norman a lesson. The lesson is either kill or be killed. Collier wants Norman to kill a captured German soldier who clearly has surrendered and is pleading for his life. Now the scene is controversial, in that the years of war have taken its toll on the morale, morals, and conscience of the soldiers. Norman pleads to forfeit his own life instead of having the guilt of murdering a man in cold blood on his conscience. After forcing Norman physically to aim the gun and shoot the man, Norman walks away claiming that because he was forced to do it physically, and because he resisted, and his soul is still clean. While being encouraged by the rest of the crew, we find that the characters of the rest of the tank crew not so shallow. 

LaBeouf's character has the nickname of "Bible." As we see after the battle, he goes to his fallen comrades and prays the Lord's Prayer with them as they lay dying. Yet he has no problem, taking aim and firing on whatever target Collier tells him to. As "Gordo" (Peña) tells Norman, that at one time or other, Collier has saved their lives. Another aspect of the film, that I must note, is that as the end drew near for the National Socialists (Nazis) they went from town to town and recruited from the populace, old men, and young children in the defense of the Fatherland. If they failed to comply, they were tortured and hung up in the town's square as an example of cowardice. I remember a film of Hitler in Berlin days before he commits suicide, reviewing the troops of children soldiers and old men, hungry and frail ready to defend their city. As Wardaddy Collier notes during a brief interlude between battles that, “Ideals are peaceful but history is violent. He also notes that although his job to kill Germans, Collier too struggles to maintain his humanity. Like Captain Miller, in “Saving Private Ryan,” he must take a moment from time to time to collect himself away from his men.  

Fury: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal | A Constantly Racing Mind
Ayer tries to show that each member of the crew is multidimensional in some way, Bernthal’s “Coon-Ass” is just that an ass. At times during the film, you find his character so repulsive that you want him dead. However, after a scene where he confesses to Norman, that he acts the way he does as a defense from all the horrors of war that he hates all humanity, but he thinks Norman is all right. “Gordo,” if anything, is loyal. While Hispanics where considered white during the 1940s there was still an element of discrimination. With the crew of Fury, he is a full member of the crew. “Best job I ever had,” he exclaims as the group settles in for their final battle. When LaBeouf’s character quotes from the Bible the book of Isaiah Chapter 6 verse 8, “Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?” not only does Norman replay “send me,” but Wardaddy knows the verse. These men are exhausted but cling to their former selves as much as possible.  

A scene midway through the film may find some controversy. From the beginning of Norman’s initiation as a member of the crew, the guys come off as crude when it comes to German women. “She’ll do you for a chocolate bar,” and comments like that,  but when Collier and Norman meet two women hiding in an apartment out of fear of retaliation by the conquerors, Wardaddy shows them a measure of humanity. Norman, and a cute German girl (Alicia von Rittberg) his age find a moment of peace and pleasure in what could be their very short lives.  Some may argue that in reality many soldiers forced themselves onto the women, or that the girl in the film was compelled to have sex with Norman, but I prefer to see it the way Ayers intended as respite for hate for a moment of love. 

Although some may balk at the final battle at the crossroads, this action comes only three months after Lt. Audie Murphy held off a German force of infantry and tanks with a .50 caliber machine gun until reinforcements came. I liked “Fury” for various reasons. The story is a decent hero on a mission against all odds, a main character who walks the line of morality and duty, a group of actors who work hard to bring some depth to otherwise stock characters, and some decent tank battles. “Fury” doesn’t depict all Germans as Nazis and I think that is fair, the soundtrack is overbearing at times, but the cinematography is in a way gorgeous. If you are a Brad Pitt fan, or a fan of WWII films then “Fury” is a film for you.  

Movie Data

Genre: Action, Drama, War
Year:  2014
Staring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal
Director: David Ayer
Producer(s): David Ayer, Bill Block, John Lesher, Ethan Smith, Brad Pitt (executive producer)
Writer:  David Ayer
Rating: R
Running Time: 134 minutes
Release Date: 10/17/2014

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