"History is Violent"
The war epic. It was once a very popular kind of genre film particularly at the height of the Golden Age of American cinema in the 1940s and 50s. Every film that depicts war in its various forms from Star Wars
owes a debt to the great war epics (as well as any archival film footage shot for and about war). Fury
is no exception. It is a war film made in contemporary times that calls back to the classic war films and does a fantastic job of dropping the audience straight into the middle of one of the greatest conflicts in history. It makes you feel every pulse-pounding moment.
In the darkest days of the second World War, the Germans have unleashed seemingly unstoppable tanks in order to crush their enemies. Their offensive seems to be successful as the Americans have sustained heavy losses. When the film opens and the dust settles following a battle, we are introduced to a lone band of soldiers, led by the experienced, battle-scarred Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt). We also meet his crew, Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal) and Trini "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Peña). These men are the beating heart inside the indestructible tank. The relationship between them is what this film is ultimately about. It is the bond they share that gives the film its life and as they work to keep the tank and team together, even in their darkest hour, so to do they work to keep this film together.
This motion picture has the potential to garner lots of attention during this Oscar season and deserves every bit of it. From the set-pieces to the costume design, to the acting, there is an authenticity that one expects, but doesn't think about during the viewing. If these things are done right, we don't think about what feels real or not and make no mistake, this is a down and dirty, old-fashioned war movie that goes for the real you can feel.
'Feel' being the optimal word here, both in terms of emotional resonance as well as visceral reactions to the bloody battles. The tank warfare in this film is riveting, tense and will have you gripping the armrests of your seat. Trust me. The many battles are photographed in such a way that feels almost beautiful with great, tight close ups of the sweaty actors barking orders and responses at each other in the heat of the fight and shots taken from the point of view of the rolling, bulldozing tanks, which put you right there in the mud and dirt with the Fury team. There is only one space of quiet in an extended sequence that allows us and the soldiers to relax a little. I won't spell it out here, but I will say that it is a moment of calm and beauty juxtaposed against many moments of horror and death.
Brad Pitt is expectedly strong as Wardaddy. He is battle-hardened and full of the machismo necessary to be a leader in a violent war. He is also a wounded and scarred man both physically and emotionally because of this war. Pitt wonderfully allows traces of humanity to show in Wardaddy and he does so with the skill you aren't surprised to see. I will note though, that at times it was difficult not to see Brad Pitt the superstar instead of the character of Wardaddy. This didn't happen often, but there were instances. I thought of actors like John Wayne, who was already a massive star by the time he took part in the war films of his day that sometimes, you simply saw The Duke. Nonetheless, Pitt was solid.
Michael Peña does strong work as Gordo, but frankly, he isn't given a great deal to work with in terms of the script. The Walking Dead
's Jon Bernthal's Travis felt to me like he had traces of other characters he has played before with slight differences here. Still, he is solid support. Shia LaBeouf's character Bible is by far the most compelling of the group aside from Pitt. LaBeouf takes yet another step further, proving just how versatile he is as an actor; he is certainly a standout. Logan Lerman's performance as Norman Ellison is also noteworthy as it felt like one of the most serious and mature roles I've seen him in and he does a great job holding his own against the other more experienced actors.
Bottom line, Fury
is a violent, heavy and exhausting movie. When it's all done you might need to take a moment to compose yourself. It is a motion picture that is confident, knows exactly what it's about and goes for the gusto. It serves as a great metaphor for the soldier who is eternally ravaged by war both internally and externally. It is brawny and strong on the surface, yet delicate and vulnerable beneath, like the soldiers who died for their country; like the tanks they fought in. Be it a World War, Vietnam War, Iraq War, or another war, that does not change.