Friday, October 17, 2014

Fury


FURY: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LeBeouf, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, directed by David Ayer (135 min.)

War pictures are typically only as strong as their ensemble.  The best war films throughout the years have a diverse and compelling cast of soldiers, grunts, men from different backgrounds who come together in the face of hell.  Saving Private Ryan was brilliant mostly because of the characterizations of Tom Hanks' troop.  Think about Platoon, and the two different factions at the center of the story.

Fury, the new World War II film from writer/director David Ayer, who directed the excellent police thriller End Of Watch back in 2012, has a much smaller, much tighter-knit group of soldiers who occupy a tank on the muddy German countryside.  This team is well constructed by Ayer's screenplay, and keeps the stakes high enough to care about what is happening on the screen.  The film takes place in 1945, as the Americans and their allies made their way through Germany in the final months of WW2.  Despite their progress, the Americans were outmatched by the German tank technologies, and are outnumbered in general.

Brad Pitt plays Don "Wardaddy" Collier, the commander of Fury, one of the few remaining tanks in the American front.  Collier is a firm leader who has conformed to the violence of war over the years, and Pitt keeps his emotions appropriately under wraps.  His team consists of a fanatically religious solider, Boyd (Shia LeBeouf), an even-keel Hispanic soldier named "Gordo" (Michael Pena), and a brash Southern dimwit named "Coon-Ass" who speaks his mind.  As the film opens, Collier and his team are saddled with a green military kid, a new tank driver named Norman (Logan Lerman).  Norman is the typical newbie to a group of war-hardened soldiers, an open-faced kid who fears killing and is still clouded by the morality of the real world.  Collier and his team have no time for passiveness.

The film follows Collier as he takes his troops from one German city to the next in an attempt to overthrow the Nazis.  He is intent on killing each and every last SS soldier, and the events that unfold are unflinching and relentlessly violent.  Bodies are blown apart, heads explode, and the proceedings become more and more grim and unsettling.  The violence in Fury is disturbing, even for a war film, but there are some virtuoso action sequences.  The most thrilling moment comes when Collier's tank squares off against a superior German tank, firing off round after round within thirty feet of each other.  The ferocity of the tanks is often on display in the picture, as these tanks and their artillery are capable of cutting a building in half in mere seconds.

Fury takes a surprising left turn in the second act, when Collier and Norman stumble upon two German women hiding out in an apartment in one of the cities they conquer.  The peaceful aside is an interesting diversion in a film primarily focused on death and destruction.  I found the scene strange, but telling and a bold stroke.

The look of Ayer's film is striking, gray and steep in mud and muck.  As we reach the conclusion, there are certain aspects of the story that are telegraphed thanks to a long cinematic history of war films.  We know, almost from the beginning, the fate of each character and probably the order of their demise.  And the final showdown comes complete with the fearless leader standing his ground in the face of insurmountable odds, and his brethren dismissing the opportunity to leave in order to make one final stand with their commander.  There are few surprises in the plot, but the performances keep things elevated.  Pitt is stern and, as always, a compelling lead.  LeBeouf's scripture spouting solider has been done before, but not in this way, and Logan Lerman's evolution is at least interesting along the way.

Fury lands somewhere in the middle of the War genre.  It is not one of the best, but most definitely not the worst.  And credit must be given to the interesting aside Ayer writes into his second act, it is easily the strongest portion of the picture.

B