Sunday, October 19, 2014

Fall Flicks: Fury

It was a guy's night out for Brad Pitt's latest, the World War II set, tank riding action-drama, Fury.  Written and Directed by future Dammaged Goods Hall of Famer David Ayer, Fury opens up deep within Nazi Germany in 1945 where a desperate Hitler has every man, woman and child fighting for their dying cause.  We meet the crew of Fury, a Sherman tank that has treaded a bloody path through Africa into Europe.  Leading the outfit is Wardaddy (Pitt), a hard ass who whips his men and kills the bad guys but suffers in solitude.  Behind him is Bible (Shia LaBeouf), bespectacled, respectable, little brother type to Wardaddy who always seems to be on the verge of tears.  Loading the cannon and fixing Fury is the scary and brutish Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal) while been there, done that know it all Gordo (Michael Pena) drives the big rig.  When their gunner is killed in a skirmish, meek administrative typist Norman (Logan Lerman) is assigned to the crew and learns the ways and horrors of war from the experienced team and first hand.

To start, I found Fury to be terrific.  If you read this online journal regularly you know that World War II movies are among my favorites.  So one with a big budget and a talented cast and crew behind it is right up my alley.  Fury is brutal, it's intense and it's funny.  If you're familiar with any of Ayer's previous work like Harsh Times, Street Kings, End of Watch or Sabotage, you know to expect a gritty, reality based tale of (mostly) men working in violent professions and the bond between them.  While that hard edged machismo can come off near ridiculous in modern affairs, it suits Fury perfectly as Ayer doesn't glorify violence as much as show you the consequences, physically and mentally, in a time when the enemy was clear cut and soldiers were asked to execute and endure harsh realities.  Wardaddy pushes his men to stay on their toes and do their jobs, which is to kill Nazi's.  Especially crime against humanity extremist members of the Schutzstaffel or SS.  They get it first and they get it bad.

Story wise, Fury doesn't explore anything we haven't seen in World War II movies before.  War is hell, our troops were spread too thin, under trained and the finale is a few versus many.  What makes it resonate into it's own memorable feature is the camaraderie between the crew members, the depiction of brutality of what these men had to do in order to survive and ultimately win the war.  Brad Pitt is solid as Wardaddy, in a sense he's like the father of his men, riding them so they'll rise to the challenge and not get themselves or others killed.  He's also surprisingly still yoked for 50 years old as a lingering shirtless scene shows Pitt's still got it and must have his Troy workout routine written down somewhere.  LaBeouf is like the sensitive little brother and doesn't have the same kind of necessary mean streak as his comrades.  Jon Bernthal is straight up terrifying as the savage of the group and I wondered if he was going to end up squaring off with Wardaddy or turning on the team.  Ayer alum Michael Pena gets a lot of laughs as the wise ass while Lerman injects his role as the greenhorn who must adapt or die with believable nervous, boyish humanity.

All of Ayer's work focuses on the daily lives of characters who live and work in dangerous worlds.  End of Watch and Sabotage neared docudrama levels as it felt like the audience was basically along for the ride.  Fury, with it's period setting, shares the same closeness but doesn't come off quite so mechanical as just tagging along.  The action is violent with faces and limbs being blown off and people being burned alive.  There's a great fight between the Sherman and the German's faster, better armored Tiger that must be among the best depictions of close quarter tank battle ever put on the big screen.  There's a mention of tracer rounds so you can see what you're shooting at but it seemed like every shot fired in the film was traced in a green or red line, giving it a strange, laser beam like feel.

While some might find the film nihilistic, I found it to be inspiring and a reminder to the great men and women who gave up their daily lives and were transported halfway around the world to fight, suffer and die for the greater good.  Ayer continues to be one of my favorite directors working today with his unrelenting, raw and realistic approach to familiar genres where punches aren't pulled and an R rating is guaranteed.

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