“Fury,” a gritty, hard-hitting, realistic war film exposes the horror, both physical and psychological of “what one man can do to another”. It is the latest WW 2 epic war movie starring Brad Pitt, and is written and directed by David Ayer. This film, in Ayer’s words, deals with a “psychically toxic kind of warfare,” but the killing and gore is somehow more palatable in the theatre of battle, than it was in Ayer’s other film released this year: the abrasive and charmless “Sabotage”. In “Fury”, a visceral, brutal, war drama, Brad Pitt continues to inhabit the niche he established for himself in “Inglorious Basterds” where he played a tough-talking, Nazi-hating American soldier. It’s just that this time, Pitt is a tank commander entombed in a Sherman tank with four other men, as they fight frantic battles against the almost-defeated Germans, in bleak, muddy countryside and scarred villages.
Pitt is impressive as Sargeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a man who like Capt Miller, (Tom Hanks) in “Saving Private Ryan” is privately sickened by the brutality of war, but never falters in putting on a brave face when leading his men. Collier has earned the reputation amongst his crew, and his superiors, as a man who knows how to survive; for instance, shortly after the opening sequence when Collier is asked where the rest of the Third Platoon is, he replies, “We’re it”. His crew are fiercely loyal to him, having been together since North Africa. They are a tight, yet diverse band of men each with a carefully chosen nickname that reflects their defining characteristic.
Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia La Beouf) is a gunner who sees no hypocrisy in simultaneously quoting Scripture and hating Nazis. At one stage, Boyd seems to seek divine anointing for their mission against the fanatical soldiers of the Third Reich, by quoting Isaiah: “The Lord said, ‘Whom shall I send’ and a man cried out, ‘Here I am, send me.’ Unexpectedly, Collier reveals a knowledge of the Bible as he identifies the words as being from Isaiah Ch 6. However, Collier steadfastly denies that God plays a part in the conflict – the war is decided by men like his crew, and he unequivocally instructs them: “Do your job!”
The film runs for over two hours, yet comprises just one day. “Fury” opens in a disorientating way with the sound of staticy, broken radio transmissions and ineffective communication, which foreshadows a theme that makes “Fury” a compelling film: “Ideals are peaceful; history is violent.” The lack of clarity and ambivalence surrounding the necessity for war is fleshed out in Collier’s character. He fluctuates between being a reasonable man and a monster, with the director successfully presenting him as hero and villain in the choices he makes and the actions he takes.
Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), is a typist who’s never even seen combat or the inside of a tank, but is drafted to replace an assistant tank driver who has been killed. Norman’s point-of-view becomes the viewer’s point-of-view. His introduction to the “Fury” team confirms to us that this group of men have lost their humanity. Through many graphic scenes, from bodies being bulldozed into pits, to inhumane ‘tutorials’ in executing the enemy, Ayer portrays the spiritual assault that battered the soldiers who fought in WW 2. Only by viewing a film such as this, does a 21st Century audience comprehend how easy it must have been for the man-in-the-street to become desensitised and numb when faced with the atrocities of war.
The Fury’s crew like to chant, “the best job I ever had,” and this catchphrase is used by both the tank’s driver – a stereotypical Mexican called “Gordo” Garcia (MIchael Peña) – and the backwoods redneck mechanic Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Berenthal.) That’s where the similarity ends because though, because Coon-Ass is loutish and offensive and boorish. Which is why when he tells Norman, “I think you’re a good man. Maybe we aren’t but you are,” it is especially poignant. He recognises something in Norman which has not yet been ruined by the nauseating excitement of battle.
My favourite scene in the film is one that comes close to the end of the film. For Norman there is symbolic burial and rebirth, suggesting that redemption can be found in the midst of tragedy. There is also a brilliant vignette where Ayer matches Norman with a young German soldier of about the same age, who decides to be merciful to Norman. In a sense, it is a mirror image of Norman, outfitted in the uniform of the German Army.
The special effects, make up, costumes, production design, locations, and battle sequences are brilliantly executed and resonate with authenticity. The movie’s prevailing colour palette is browns and greys, mixed with puffs of white (explosions), gusts of red flame, and occasional incongruous, brightly coloured women’s dresses. “Fury” is excellent at portraying the full horror and ambiguity of war, which sweeps civilians, animals and troops into its maw. For me, it presents the clear thesis that even for the most noble reasons, there can never, ever, be such a thing as a good war.