A Movie Review

of Fury (2014)

 

By Lance Zedric

“Ideals are peaceful—history is violent.” No line better illustrates Fury’s steel-shredding, skin-searing, 134 minutes of in-your-face realism than the remark delivered by Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), in this explosive, no-frills cinematic effort that is a stark and brutal representation of tank warfare in Europe during World War II. Not since Patton, released in 1970, has Hollywood produced such an entertaining product with the tank as a significant vehicle (pardon pun) driving the film.

Directed by David Ayer and released by QED International (2014), Fury is the name of an M4 Sherman tank and its five-man American crew that is pushing into Germany in the final months of the war. Stress, grime, mud, blood, exhaustion, and death carry the movie, as does Pitt’s gritty portrayal of the grizzled, hard-nosed sergeant who strives to keep his tight-knit tank crew alive. Featuring mismatched characters Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LeBouef); Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena); and Grady “Coon Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), the crew has been together since the invasion of North Africa in 1942, and calls the tank home.

They are begrudgingly forced to accept typist Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), as the untrained replacement for their dead gunner, whose blood and guts are splattered inside the tank in the opening scene. Naturally, Norman’s first assignment is to scrub out the tank—which causes him to vomit—and sets the tone of the film. Norman’s evolution from an inexperienced youth to a hardened veteran—fomented and advanced by Wardaddy—is at the core of the story.

After Norman failed to react during an encounter with the enemy that led to the death of a fellow tanker, the German speaking Wardaddy orders him to execute a German prisoner who begs to be spared. But Norman refuses. In one of the film’s poignant scenes, Wardaddy grabs Norman’s  hand and shoots the prisoner in the back, underscoring Wardaddy’s brutality. Conversely, Wardaddy shows compassion in an occupied town when he and Norman discover Irma and her beautiful younger cousin, Emma, hiding in an apartment. Rather than exploit the women, Wardaddy shares six precious eggs that he had been saving. This breaks the ice, and while Norman and Emma retreat to a bedroom to tenderly consummate their hasty courtship—and to satisfy the obligatory Hollywood love scene requirement—Wardaddy removes his shirt and washes away layers of mud and grime under the watchful eye of the attractive Emma—who leisurely cooks like June Cleaver on Sunday. The scene introduces a touch of sexual tension and offers a measure of normalcy in a world gone mad. But as the foursome sits at the table to enjoy the meal, the rest of the crew barges in and shatters the calm. In a dysfunctional and awkward dinner scene ala Goodfellas or Meet the Fockers, the crew harasses the women, eats the food, and questions Wardaddy’s loyalty to them. But Wardaddy reaffirms himself as the leader. Moments later, the crew is ordered to move out, and as they do, a shell destroys the building killing the women. This reintroduces the tension and mires the audience back into the cold, emotional mud of war just in time for the climactic scene. The platoon is ordered to guard a strategic crossroad, but enroute, the other three tanks are destroyed leaving only the disabled Fury to fight it out against a battalion of Waffen SS in a winner-take-all finale comparable to Rambo I, II, and III combined.  In the end, a critically injured Wardaddy takes one for the team allowing Norman to escape from the hatch in the bottom of the tank as the Germans close in. In an ironic twist, a German soldier spots Norman hiding under the tank, but spares his life—further illustrating the uncertainty of war.

Overall, the acting was solid. Pitt wore fatigue and middle age on his face like a badge of honor, and delivered a fine performance, as did LaBouef, who convincingly portrayed a man on an emotional bubble looking for a needle. Lerman and Pena were convincing, but Bernthal turned in one of the more memorable performances in his stereotypical depiction of “Coon Ass,” an annoying and ignorant southern redneck that every unit has and needs when sending lead downrange for real, but doesn’t want when the shooting stops or women are nearby.

Military, the technical advisors did their homework. Despite a few glitches, they correctly portrayed the thinly armored and lightly armed Sherman tank as inferior to the German Tiger tank, and even attached logs to the sides of the tank to offer additional protection from the superior German guns—which was done in the real deal. In fact, the tanks were so lightly armored and combustible, that the Germans nicknamed them “Tommy-cookers,” referring to the British who also used the tank.

Though graphically violent, Fury is a formulaic attempt to illustrate the brotherhood of soldiers in war. The cinematography was excellent and the set design realistically conveyed grisly battle scenes and discomfort. But like the Sherman tanks of WWII, Fury was too thinly layered up front and lacked the overall firepower to be ranked among the best war movies of all time. However, it honored the courage and contribution of the thousands of “Tankers” who fought the war inside a crowded iron coffin with the specter of death-by-fire tugging at their sleeve. In that, the movie was right on track. 7.5 out of 10 stars.

 

Brad Pitt as Don 'Wardaddy' Collier