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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fury Review: Brutal, Barbaric Tank Epic Largely Succeeds

Fury is a brutal, even barbaric, take on the last months of WWII.
To those of you who have served or continue to do so, I thank you. The task of defending our country is not an easy one, especially when forced to make tough choices that result in the loss of lives when war is unleashed. The David Ayer WWII tank epic Fury sure doesn't pull punches about those choices, delivering the most brutal affair since Saving Private Ryan.

In the final months of WWII, the effort to defeat the Germans has been met not with surrender but with desperation. Caught in the madness of war, tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) leads a motley crew of psychopaths: the tank driver Gordo (Michael Pena), the vicious backwater "Coon-Ass" (Jon Bernthal), and "Bible" (Shia LaBeouf), an evangelical Christian with the gift of biblical gab. Suffering the loss of one of their own, Wardaddy is forced to take on fresh recruit Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who despite having served in the clerk's pool is now thrown in among battle-scarred men who hate him for his civilized ways. When their Sherman tank loses a tread at a crossroads, they gather to defend it with minimal weapons and little hope for survival.

For all its power, Fury suffers from two problems: editing and content. Displaying what feels like a continual series of horrific carnage, we're forced to witness children hung for refusing to serve Germany, ripped off faces of former tank jockeys, and several severed heads and crushed bodies that could make some lose their popcorn. Such scenes are simply unspeakable and almost unnecessary in their frequency. I get the impact Ayer is trying to make, as he strips the lacquer off the gallant warriors who represented The Greatest Generation: I just don't know if audiences (or more importantly, the MPAAS at Oscar time) will accept such harsh realities.

Ayer refuses to cast his soldiers in hero mode, rather portraying them as psychotic victims of a sustained war that doesn't seem likely to end. Transformed perhaps on the molecular level, Wardaddy's men have lost all capacity for civility, as evidenced when they sit down for a meal served by two captured German women in a conquered town. Yet, this scene goes on for too long, perpetuated by a lack of common sense about the chain of command and the effect which a shorter scene might have provided. A 10-minute exercise that should have been 5, this one and a few others linger like flies around the dead, of which here there is plenty of both.

And even with these errors, Fury largely succeeds due to some of the best close-quarters tank scenes ever shot. With these men literally on top of one another, the claustrophobic surroundings up the tension in a way few other films have ever attempted. There's also the tracers of the guns and the continual pounding of Sherman tank canons to contend with, as Ayer tries to bring to as much historical fact as possible.

Pitt shines in his portrayal of a commander on the edge, prone to unspeakable violence one minute, the other a hot mess as he hides his fear from his men. LaBeouf is also a stand out, having apparently done some home surgery to himself to prepare for the role. Yet his deep, mournful eyes tell us everyting we need to know about war. Every kill is written across his face, and LeBeouf makes that case from the moment he arrives. Even though Pena doesn't get enough screentime, he, Bernthal, and Lerman round out an exceptional cast. They seem to gather around Pitt like planets around a sun, that is until he seeks refuge from them to breakdown at the loss of so many men. Such performances stick with you, and both and LeBouf should nab well-deserved Oscar noms.

Even with these strengths, one question will continue to divide critics: Do audiences need overly-brutal images of war in order to snap out of their XBox One/PS4 binges of stylized war games in order to see what real conflict looks like? Perhaps. Whether Fury is the one to do that is anyone's guess, but it's a great production brought down by a lack of editing. Luckily, the message is so powerful that I'm willing to set my issue aside and strongly recommend it.

Fury is rated R Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout and has a runtime of 134 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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