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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Fury’ offers a realistic WWII experience

Published: October 24, 2014
Section: Arts, Etc.

There is an argument in the halls of pop culture criticism that every story relating to World War II has been told and that audiences are tired of seeing new ones. This argument was principle in the move of the “Call of Duty” video game franchise from a series of boring pro-America war fantasies set in the ’40s to its current form, a series of boring pro-America war fantasies set in the present day.

In the realm of movies, this has only been around since 2009, when Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” came out. Since “Basterds” was so unique and fun, not to mention critically acclaimed and financially successful, many people, or at least I, could not think of a way that similar stories could do better. I mean, c’mon, how can you make a genre movie that beats Tarantino at his best?

“Fury,” the fifth film by up-and-coming auteur David Ayer, steps up to the plate by going down the opposite road. Where “Basterds” was a spy thriller born of and existing in the same universe as pulp WWII films from the ’60s and ’70s, “Fury” is a portrait of man at his worst and war at its most hellish. It makes no excuses and does not pull any cinematic tricks, telling a story as hard and dirty as the titular tank, in which most of the film takes place.

Said tank is the home of Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), a tough-as-nails sergeant leading his tough-as-nails crew (Shia Labeouf, Jon Bernthal and Michal Peña) through the German countryside in mid-1945. The gang is assigned naive desk clerk Norman (Logan Lerman) as their new gunner at the last minute for their push toward Berlin, and personalities clash immediately. At first, Norman is completely averse to working with the men and cannot keep his lunch down when the blood starts flying. But as “Fury” rolls through town after town and fight after fight, the reality of war sets in, and a new sort of respect forms between them as they try to survive.

There are three things Ayer wants us to know about his vision of World War II: It is loud, dirty and dark. The men fighting the Nazis aren’t “good”; they’re only good enough to fight a larger evil and tough enough to do so efficiently and without mercy. Unlike Tarantino, Ayer makes no attempt to take the most fictionalized war in history and stretch that fiction to its most ridiculous limits. He is painting a blood-soaked picture of men: mean, angry men who are only good at being mean and angry and are lucky that they have Brad Pitt there to point them at the Nazis.

Ayer crafts this black and gray world of mud and blood and guts magnificently. The battle scenes, the most realistic since “Saving Private Ryan,” are so intense and frightening that I spent each one with my jaw totally clenched. Every time someone gets shot or a tank runs over an SS trooper, blood and flesh fly, but in a way that holds weight. The people we see dying are people, despite their side in the war, and when they’re dead, they’re dead. By the end of the movie’s final, amazing sequence, I was so tense I had to sit for a couple seconds before leaving the theater.

However, “Fury” failed to immerse me in every other way. Again, the aesthetics of the film are really good; it looks, sounds and feels like you’re in the fight. But Ayer spends so much energy on these factors that the narrative and characters get no real attention. The character of Wardaddy is just a mere clone of Pitt’s “Basterds” character minus any personality, and even though the rest of the cast is pretty good (even Shia Labeouf, whom I can’t stand), they are stuck playing outlines, rather than characters.

More than anything, the cast is playing a set of archetypes: There’s the religious guy, the new guy, the non-white guy, the Southern guy, the tough leader and it goes on. A filmmaker like Sam Peckinpah could take these archetypes and elevate them through a sense of poetic framing, but “Fury” is just too interested in mood to even scratch this. The one scene that attempts a human interlude is incredibly silly and out-of-place, and there’s no point to the whole thing until the last half hour. The film is also way too long, and for a movie that is mostly action, the lack of depth makes it seem like not that much is happening. It is definitely a film that people will disagree on, and one that I didn’t necessarily hate, but in the end, it is also only as deep as the mud the tank rolls over. Had the story and characters been more developed, it could have been a great film, but “Fury” is ultimately too shallow to have any real emotional effect.