Year 3, Film #33 (Total #483)
THE PLOT: April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Out-numbered, out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.
THE GOOD: The war genre, and World War II in particular, has a plethora of films populating the annals of film and each one always seems to bring something new to the table. With Fury the most obvious addition is that of the mighty tanks and the crews that man them, but Fury also takes an interesting look at how men change during war. How even though you might beg to die instead of killing the enemy soldiers, most people will transform into the soldier that shows no mercy. That’s what war does: it changes people, it changes ideals, and it changes morals. And while Fury might seem a bit bland in some places, it does have plenty packed in to its 134 minutes to keep you attentive throughout.
The two major positives about this film are the acting, and the resulting sense of camaraderie and brotherhood. In terms of acting, there’s the big five who man the tank “Fury” — “Wardaddy” (Brad Pitt), “Bible” (Shia LaBeouf), “Gordo” (Michael Peña), “Coon-Ass” (Jon Bernthal), and the newcomer Norman (Logan Lerman) who comes on board after the death of one of their gunners. Each of these characters is very distinct and even by the end of the first scene you start to get an idea as to what these people do. “Wardaddy” is the leader and Brad Pitt does a great job at corralling his troops and leading them into impossible situations. He works closely with the rookie Norman, who is scared out of his mind because he’s just a desk clerk who’s trained to “type 60 words per minute”. Pitt is brilliant as the father-figure so to speak, the man who keeps this family together, the one who helps their children get through difficult times and tough situations.
But it’s the rest of the crew that brings life to the film and keeps the tank running. Everyone plays their part but the two I want to highlight are Norman and “Bible”. First, and most surprisingly, is “Bible” and the performance that Shia LaBeouf gives. For a long time LaBeouf has been on my list of least-favorite actors and is someone that’s almost ruined films for me because I just could not stand his “acting”. But in Fury, it’s like a miracle has taken place (maybe it’s not a coincidence his nickname is “Bible”). As for Norman, what’s so great about his character is the transformation you see take place. When he first shows up, he’s the scared-shitless kid who thinks this all must be a big mistake and by the end he just wants to kill the Nazis. This may seem like quite a major change that completely reverses his beliefs, but the transformation is a gentle one and one that seems believable. You can see Norman reach that breaking point, resisting all the way, until something finally snaps and he turns into a killing machine.
Which leads into the sense of camaraderie. It’s not particularly unique to Fury (many war films have a close group of friends that have to stick it out through difficult times), but it’s effective nonetheless. The camaraderie between this crew helps bring us into the world of war and the life inside a tank. More importantly, it helps us come to an understanding of what war is and what it does to people. While you see that at an individual level through each character’s eyes, it’s also seeing war through the lens of the group that helps shape your perception of what it truly is.And the group of people in Fury brings us a clear picture of what that is.
THE BAD: As I’ve sort of been alluding to throughout this review, while Fury delivers the goods for the most part and sets itself up as a good war film, it is competing against the countless war films that have come before it. Films like Saving Private Ryan, Lone Survivor, War Horse (man, Steven Spielberg has done a lot of war films), and to throw in at least one older classic, The Bridge on the River Kwai. While I’m all for giving new films a chance to succeed and go into them with a clean slate, you can’t just forget films that have come before it. Fury (or any war film, or any film in general) is colored by what’s come before it and the memories that you’ve formed from those films. And so the question becomes, “Why watch this new one?”
For Fury, there isn’t a real clear answer. Yes, this is a fantastic film and anyone who watches it won’t be disappointed. It’s filled with blood and guts (much more than many action films these days — you literally see heads torn from bodies and appendages blown up by heavy artillery) and has all the makings of a great war film. But if you sit down and watch the war film, a Spielberg-classic would probably be your film of choice. Fury just doesn’t have that piece of legacy, that thing which will make the film standout from all the others. And no matter how much you can disregard past experiences while watching the film and give it a fair chance, those memories of films past heavily influence your choosing to watch this film. And if a film can’t make that lasting impression over another, it doesn’t have what it takes to be considered one of the greats.
THE TAKEAWAY: Fury is an amazing film that brings you deep into the lives of a tank crew and shows exactly how war can change a person. You get all the action, drama, and historical accuracy (at least it appears so, but what do I know, I’m no historian) you could ever want from a WWII film. The acting is great around the board, especially from Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, and surprisingly Shia LaBeouf. While this film may not make a lasting impression or be unique enough to become one of the classics, Fury is a guaranteed good time if you do happen to watch it.
Fury opens in theaters today, Friday, October 17, 2014.
THE RATING: 4 out of 5