Fury brings the gruesome reality of war to the big screen.
The pain, distress, and confusion that result from war are often hard for civilians to understand. Experience truly is the best teacher when it comes to such comprehension. Nevertheless, Hollywood will continue to try to capture that, and Fury is the latest, but perhaps one of the best, to step up to the challenge. Lead actor Brad Pitt tells us, "Ideals are peaceful; history is violent," and the film definitely capitalizes on this theme in its attempt to portray the realities of war.
The year is 1945, and the Allies are deep inside Nazi Germany as they make their final push into enemy territory. Hardened after years of war, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) is in need of a new assistant driver for the M4 Sherman tank named Fury that he commands. The stakes are high, and Wardaddy and his veteran crew don't take kindly to the army's idea of a replacement: Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a recently enlisted typist who has never even seen the inside of a tank. Young and inexperienced, Norman can't stomach cleaning up where his new seat where the former assistant driver's blood are.
Norman is the exact opposite of what Wardaddy and his crew expect or want. It doesn't help that the four of them - Wardaddy, Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal) and Trini "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Peña) - have been together since the North African Campaign. They have their routine, their sayings, and their way of doing things that Norman just doesn't understand. With no other options, the crew takes Norman on, but none of them hesitates to show frustration and anger with his inexperience, naivete and compassion for the enemy. They are sent across German territory to take small towns on the way, but Norman is hesitant to act or do anything helpful and instead causes problems. The tension continues to rise.
Despite portraying the character considered weakest, Logan Lerman shows a complexity to the role of Norman that might have been lost in the hands of another actor. He truly holds his own against the heavyweight that is Brad Pitt, the anchor of the film. With his fearsome, almost brutal character, Pitt's portrayal of Wardaddy is nuanced and realistic, and makes the audience think and even question their desire to root for him. But his brooding, angsty nature sometimes pushes the film a little too much into drama territory.
Strangely enough, the narrative itself avoids drama. Entirely self-contained and with little conflict - other than the obvious fact that they're at war - the plot surprisingly maintains a steady tension and doesn't bore the audience. Back stories of Wardaddy and his crew are left mostly in the back. There is no legendary romance, no friendship worth dying for, not even an overarching theme of patriotism. Instead, the high stakes of what's happening now are enough (though just barely) to carry Fury.
Its strength, though, is in its ability to shove war plainly into our faces without any sugarcoating. Flattened soldiers under tanks, bodies blown to bits by grenades and bayonets to the face all in the open contrast starkly with the claustrophobic feeling of being inside the tank. Despite these gruesome, realistic images, Fury is slick and sharp visually, so much so that it is just too well-executed to do much else besides tell us what we already know: that war is dirty, ugly and painful. Perhaps that's the difficulty; the title sets such a high bar, but the film fails to reach it.
Images courtesy of Columbia Pictures.