Review: Fury (Ayer, 2014)
Fury is brought to us by David Ayer, the same writer/director who made Training Day and a half a dozen other police- or military-related action dramas, most of which I confess I haven’t seen but which boast the likes of such stars as Jake Gyllenhaal, Christian Bale, and a host of others. Attracting big names is evidently not a problem for Ayer, for Fury is headlined by Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, quintessential police/army man Michael Peña, and young and rising Logan Lerman, whom I didn’t recognize from The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Taking place in the final months of World War II with the Allies on the edge of victory, the movie follows an American tank platoon through an impossibly long and excruciating day of fighting in the heart of Nazi Germany. Headed by tough but fair-minded Don Collier (Pitt), the squad of soldiers heads into one deadly situation after another, losing companions left and right, because, as the film makes clear in the explanatory text with which it opens, German tank technology is far superior to the American’s. In the film’s opening scenes we see that Collier’s crew has lost its gunner, who is replaced when they make camp by rookie soldier Norman Ellison (Lerman), a former clerk, eight weeks fresh. At first he’s nothing but a sweet, scared, God-loving kid, thrust into a situation he finds immoral and inhumane, but we soon see how Collier makes a man of him (in more ways than one). There follow some tense scenes in which the rest of the platoon, a little loony from the brutality they’ve committed and witnessed, alternatingly bully and befriend the newcomer. The men fight and cuss among themselves, but it’s clear they’re fond of each other and respect and trust Collier. In fact, everyone respects and trusts Collier, which is why he gets all the impossible assignments. He is the regiment’s Achilles, almost a god-like hero. Miraculously, he is also chivalrous and gentle toward women, as we see when the company takes a small German town. Men do not get more manly than this.
But the film’s glib machismo is a little difficult to endure. Soft, gentle Norman is suitably toughened up, as one can and must be after just a few hours of war. Being tough means being able to kill, of course. All those rotten Nazi m—–f—–s deserve to die, and it takes a man to give them their comeuppance. Seriously, what would Hollywood do without Nazis? Would it actually have to make war seem more complicated? Which dovetails into my discomfort with action movies masquerading as realistic war films. It seems wrong somehow to depict the very real brutality, grimness, and suffering of war as a side note to the histrionic, video-game heroics that self-indulgent movies like this love to dish out. Use World War II if you must, Ayer, but make it fake and stylized like Tarantino did in Inglourious Basterds so that you do not fall into the trap of taking yourself too seriously. Because Fury is not a serious movie; it’s a bloody, ridiculous action flick.