Monday, November 17, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Fury

Fury was written and directed by David Ayer, who also wrote U-571, Training Day, The Fast And The Furious, S.W.A.T. and End Of Watch. 

I don't have a lot to say about this film. It's reasonably well-written and competently made and tells its story concisely and economically. It's most definitely a modern war film, the kind that loves to show us the horrors of war rather than paint it as a noble pursuit. It's a far cry from the old fashioned John Wayne films that glorified war. Which is as it should be.

Controversial actor Shia LeBeouf reportedly pulled his own tooth, sliced up his face and refused to shower for several weeks in order to "understand what his character would have gone through." Yeah, you could do that, I suppose. Or maybe you could, I don't know... ACT like you're tired and miserable.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
It's the final days of WWII, and the Allies are making a final push deep into Nazi Germany. Battle-scarred veteran Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) commands a Sherman tank in the 66th Armored Regiment. His crew consists of "Bible" Swan (Shia LeBeouf), "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Pena) and the charmingly nicknamed "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Berbthal). When their original gunner is killed, his replacement is Norman Ellison, a meek and innocent clerk/typist who's never been in a tank before, much less seen any kind of battle.

Norman reluctance to kill causes the deaths of a fellow tank crew, which leads to resentment by his own tank-mates. Wardaddy forces Norman to kill a German prisoner in an effort to toughen him up.

Wardaddy is chosen to lead a dangerous mission to keep a vital crossroads from a German tank regiment. After the fierce battle, Wardaddy's tank is the only one that remains.

The tank is immobilized by a landmine, and the crew decide to stay with the tank and make their last stand in a desperate attempt to hold the crossroads from an approaching plattoon of German soldiers. It ends exactly as you'd expect.

Thoughts:
• Director Ayer was obviously going for a gritty realism when it came to the characters, but I think he went a bit overboard. With the exception of Wardaddy and Norman, the rest of the tank crew are coarse, unpleasant and downright repellant. I wouldn't want to be in the same county as them, much less cooped up in the same tank.

That definitely seems like a misfire. This is a war movie, and you know what that means-- lots of death. The movie expects us to grieve whenever a character meets an untimely end, but it's hard to work up any tears for such loathsome creatures.

 • Newly recruited tank gunner Norman Ellison serves as the film's audience surrogate, so the characters explain the intricacies of tank warfare to him and the audience as well.

As you would expect in a film like this, Norman goes from wide-eyed innocent clerk/typist to battle-hardened veteran over the course of the story. What you might not expect though is that his transformation appears to occur in the space of one day. That seems a bit rushed.

Not only is war hell, but it apparently moves very quickly as well.

• Jon Bernthal plays his "Coon-Ass" character pretty much the same as Shane from The Walking Dead

Whether that's what the director wanted, or if that's just the range of Bernthal's acting isn't clear. He needs to try and branch out though, or he's going to be stuck playing short-tempered rednecks his entire career.

• Jesus, Brad Pitt's 51 years old and he's still in better shape than I'll ever be.

• There's a lengthy interlude in the middle of the film that drags on forever and grinds the story to a dead stop.

After the Americans take over a small German town, Wardaddy invites Norman to come with him. They barge into the apartment of a couple of young German women. Wardaddy takes advantage of their hospitality, cleaning himself up and getting them to fix his first home-cooked dinner in months. Norman experiences German hospitality of a different kind as one of the women takes him into her bedroom and closes the door.

Later when they're enjoying a nice dinner with the ladies, the rest of the tank crew barges in. Gordo, Bible and Coon-Ass are drunk and disorderly and quickly turn the dinner into a tense and awkward affair

They taunt the German women as they paw at them of course, but they also belittle and openly criticize Wardaddy for not inviting them to the party. You know, Wardaddy, their flippin' commanding officer. For some reason he just sits there fuming, seemingly powerless to stop them.

For the life of me I can't understand the point of this scene. I guess it's to show that Wardaddy isn't perfect, and playing favorites with Norman while shutting out the rest of the crew was a mistake on his part? Honestly I'm really not sure what was going on.

I do know that letting his crew walk all over him doesn't make Wardaddy sympathetic, it makes him seem weak and incompetent. 

This entire scene could be excised from the movie and not harm it a bit.  

• Credit where credit's due: the tank battles were harrowing and very well done.

• Near the end of the film the tank runs over a landline in the road and loses a tread. Wardaddy tells Norman to run up the road to a distant tree line and keep watch for enemy troops. Norman dutifully jogs up the center of the road. The road that is most likely riddled with more land mines. Luckee!

• Norman sees a battalion of three hundred SS troops approaching. Wardaddy decides to make his last stand at the crossroads to prevent the Germans from advancing. The rest of the crew agree to stay with him and fight.

As the Nazi column advances, the tank crew begins firing. They take out an impressive number of soldiers and machinery before they run out of ammo. Wardaddy then says, "Welp, there's more ammo hanging off the sides of the tank. Let's go get it!"

They then crawl outside the tank to retrieve the extra ammo, in the middle of an intense, all-out firefight.

Why the hell didn't they think of that before they started the battle? Surely there was room for a few extra ammo cases inside the tank? If not, I'd have made room.

• With the battle lost, Wardaddy orders Norman to exit the escape hatch in the bottom of the tank. He does so, and hides in the crater left by the land mine. 

A few minutes later a young SS officer shines his flashlight under the tank and sees Norman hiding. They stare at each other for a moment, and the SS officer moves on.

It's a nice little scene, but... I ain't buying it for a minute. A regular German officer might have let Norman go. But an SS officer? Doubtful.

Fury is a grim and bloody reminder that war is hell. It features some top notch battle scenes, but its repulsive characters prevent us from getting too attached to anyone. I give it a B.

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