by: S. Scott Stanikmas
Director David Ayer is getting a lot of press these days. He’s been selected to direct one of Warner Bros more high profile comic book offerings, Suicide Squad. Many people are saying this could be DC’s answer to Marvel Studio’s Guardians of the Galaxy, taking a group of second and third tier characters and possibly making movie gold. His last few projects show that he has the chops to direct team movies. The superb End Of Watch was more a dynamic duo with Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena, while the largely panned Sabotage gave us a glimpse into an elite team of DEA Special Ops agents. But it’s in his latest offering, the World War II film Fury, where I think Ayer hits his stride and shows an excellent team dynamic while also giving us a glimpse into the horrors of what tank warfare was like.
When we enter the world of Fury, the U.S involvement is well under way and the crew of the titular tank have been working as a well-oiled machine (pun totally intended)…until the death of their assistant driver / bow gunner “Red” (Red being killed before the opening credits). We’re slowly introduced to the rest of the team, who also all have distinct nicknames: Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), Bible (Shia LeBeouf) Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal) and Gordo (Michael Pena). When the team returns to what qualifies as a base of operations to restock their home and say goodbye to their fallen comrade they get introduced to their new AD: typing clerk Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a green recruit who has never seen the ravages of war firsthand.
As can be expected, the team who handles FURY is sullen and rude to Norman, making him earn his place not only in the tank (by making him clean the remains of Red out from the seat where he will be positioned), but also amongst the group of soldiers who have become closer than brothers. While Wardaddy tries to take a father figure role and toughen Norman up it only seems to make things more difficult with the others. But slowly Norman begins to earn not only their trust but their friendship as well (which is evidenced in the climactic battle scene).
Fury was just a joy to watch. The two hour and fifteen minute time span shows us the gradual transformation of Norman from weak-willed civilian who pukes at the sight of blood (and half a face that’s been blown off and is just sitting on his new seat like a discarded tissue) to a hardened killer of Nazis, even going so far as to curse repeatedly while mowing them down.
As much character development as we got about Norman though, I’d have to say that much backstory was lacking from the other members of the FURY crew. I’m not saying I wanted the film to cut away and show us Bible or Gordo at home before they enlisted, but I feel like we didn’t get everything we could have, even if it would have just been Wardaddy giving us some quick exposition while talking to Norman about each of the crew members. But then that would have felt forced and I would rather have a great story being told than a good story with decent character backgrounds and fully explained motivations.
That being said, each actor from the FURY tank brought their A-game to this film. Pena and LeBeouf brought a light-heartedness that cut through their rough exteriors every once in a while. Bernthal was just a crazy sonofabitch and after watching his turn in Fury, I can see why he’s being more sought after by the major studios. (While watching this Blu-ray, my girlfriend brought up Jon Bernthal’s run as Shane on AMC’s The Walking Dead and questioned whether or not he could ever play a character that wasn’t a complete unrepentant dirtbag.) Pitt gave a great performance, showing toughness when needed and knowing when to soften up and show his frail human side (but never in front of the men whose lives he’s responsible for). Logan Lerman stole the show though for his amazing transformation mentioned above.
A small quibble I have with the film was the depiction of the firefights. When the guns were fired and the tanks shot off their rounds, the bullets had a distinct red or green trail. After a while it became a bit of a distraction. I couldn’t help but think of the lightsabers and guns from Star Wars (which is a little messed up as the American weapons shot with the red trails and red is the color of the Dark Side in SW. Does this mean Ayer thinks the American forces were a little evil in their European campaign?). I understand that during the war some rounds did use tracers to help the soldiers know who was shooting what where, but I think that level of authenticity pulled me out of the film a bit
The Blu-ray itself comes loaded with a slew of extras, including almost an hour of unused and alternate footage and a couple of neat behind-the-scenes pieces.
The horrors of war and can never be truly explained unless one goes through them. The weight it places on a person’s soul and the cost one pays is a secret only they’ll truly know. David Ayer, who not only directed but wrote the script as well, has given us an unrepentant look into the abyss and shows us a glimpse of what that cost and that weight might look like. Fury is one of the finest war movies I’ve ever seen.