It feels wrong to write about Fury in the regular film review kind of way, about a film portraying the harsh brutalities of war, a film that brings to life the atrocities and the futility of war. Quite poignantly the only words that can do it justice come from William Tecumseh Sherman, “War is hell.” Although not necessarily spoken word for word it is certainly implied in a speech for the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy. Whether the inspiration to create one of the most harrowing war films since Saving Private Ryan came from this famous utterance is unclear but it seems too perfect. The fact that a war film exploring the brutality of the Second World War in its closing months focuses on a Sherman tank crew, but of course it’s just mere speculation. The inner workings, relationships and demands of a Second World War tank crew have been left untouched in the past and although there might not have necessarily been an active demand, Fury casts an all too important light on a time in history that is consistently disregarded from the public consciousness, especially in terms of historical knowledge. With a sense of realism beyond comprehension at times Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) commands a tight-knit tank crew of the eponymous ‘Fury’. They have complete loyalty and respect for one another and understand the boundaries of wartime relationships like any other soldier that has been in the war as long as they have. They’ve seen it all and done it all together and would die for one another at the drop of a hat. When Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) joins ‘Wardaddy’ the now battle hardened crew greet him with understandable hostility. Norman serves as an unwelcome reminder that one of their crew is dead, Norman is his replacement and the same could well happen to him or anyone of them at a moments notice.
At its heart Fury is a character driven story. The mission just serves as a platform to build upon, second to the stories and experiences of the crew involved. The tank battles are intenese and it was refreshing to see a tank as more than just a weapon to save the day. Often demoted to a supporting role in war epics ‘Fury’ leads the way and the bond between man and machine is captured effortlessly by both Ayer’s direction and Pitt’s performance. While we’re here I’ve always enjoyed Shia LaBeouf’s screen presence, a sort of wimsical yet rugged determination shines through and his recent castigation in the media spotlight has tainted popular opinion of late. But his performance as Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan has to put him in contention for Best Supporting Actor come awards season. Often does he act as the voice of reason and despite his spiritual affiliation he never takes the moral high ground. All too familiar with the horrors of war and the nightmares that haunt his crew LaBeouf’s role is sublimely minimal but he dominates countless scenes with his glazed eyes and haggard authenticity that can’t go unnoticed.
Unlike the majority of war epics, especially regarding the Second World War Fury is not based on a true event. Band of Brothers, Saving Private Ryan, and A Bridge Too Far all attempt to tell a specific story inspired by a true event. Oddly enough Fury is incredibly believable precisely because the time has been taken to meticulously pull together a story that focuses on the individuals involved but doesn’t single out any character from history. It really drives home the fact that stories like this were just everyday occurrences experienced by every soldier, not just singled out platoons or heroic rescue missions. Every character is equal, they are all living during the most intense fighting of the European theatre and yet the story is not about winning the war. It is about a duty to fight, a duty to lead, and a duty to die for your country.
Blood sweat and tears have quite literally gone into this production and in more ways than you’d imagine. Both on and off screen Fury reeks of authenticity. In an article published in Culture, the Sunday Times Supplement David Ayer talks to Jeff Dawson of the “gruelling” training regime that Pitt, LaBeouf, Lerman, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal had to suffer before they were considered physically but also mentally prepared to take on a war epic of this historical significance.
As mentioned earlier David Ayer’s look at the closing stages of the Second World War in the European theatre follows the grim realities of Hitler’s fatalistic dynamic. But this film should not be misunderstood as mindless Nazi killing, a theme Tarantino explores in his own unique way in Inglourious Basterds. No, instead Ayer brings to light both the physiological and psychological states each Allied soldier was experiencing at a time when death was an all too familiar spectre. What Ayer explores, so comments Dawson, is the moral ambiguity involved with the Reich’s mobilisation of women and children. As a soldier the binary oppositions of good and evil are firmly established but when women and children are employed to carry out the regime’s futile attempt at protecting a nation’s pride, the war takes a dramatic turn that changes the entire dynamic from liberation to invasion. Ayer frames this aspect of the war perfectly and at a time when the German army was suffering 350,000 casualties a month and the allied command couldn’t comprehend the German population’s willingness to fight on Ayer ensures that as an audience we are more concerned with the individuals involved, their thoughts and experiences. The well placed foreshadowing from Ayer frames the unrelenting threat of death faced by soldiers and civilians alike and really brings to life the grim realities of wartime Germany.
In part this explains the fidgety audience from the word go and the subsequent creation of an uncomfortable atmosphere. The omnipresence of war films in popular culture has been criticised in the past, and rightly so but I won’t get into that here. What I will say is that Fury offered something incredibly unique in the sense that I’ve never been so moved, captivated might be a better word, during the closing stages of a war film. Obviously Saving Private Ryan has its moments, in fact a very similar moment with similar timing as well but it struggled to make me question the violence of war. Maybe Medal of Honour and the early Call of Duty games instilled some sense of numbing to the atrocities of war and so the similarity between them and Ryan failed to evoke a suitable emotional response, who knows. But as ‘Wardaddy’ says himself “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” Hammering home the harrowing truth that violence is in human nature and no amount of Geneva convention can deter Nazi fanaticism.
This is not to say that the audience need to be reminded of the violence of history, I certainly don’t coming from a History degree but there are people that honestly do not understand the history of the Second World War. Even if war films aren’t your thing, or even history for that matter Fury is so much more than a war film. It serves as a lesson for everything the common man is unwilling to accept. In the modern age everything seems superficial in comparison. I urge you to sit through the credits and cap off your viewing experience with the montage of archival footage. I left the cinema in a haze of silent contemplation as I tried to wrap my head around the realities of war. Realities that are often diluted and warped for entertainment purposes and truly put myself in the shoes of a Second World War soldier. Remarkably drawn together I can’t recommend this film enough. Most definitely a Must-see and I’d have to change my mind from my Gone Girl post and say that if there is only one film you see, at least before Interstellar comes out then Fury has to be it. For its lessons on the most intense and fanatical fighting seen during the war and its incredible direction and cast Fury challenges Saving Private Ryan for the top spot when it comes down to the saddening realities of war.
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