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Fury

Fury

He looks a bit sad, doesn't he? Do you think he might cry?

dir: David Ayer

2014

Fury. Pure, unalloyed Fury.

That’s what I felt after paying good money (I received free tickets) to see this flick. Actually, it’s not a feeling I had afterwards, it’s a feeling I felt while watching it, which tempered to relief when it ended.

And the thing is, it’s not because it’s a particularly bad film. I am not sure whether, objectively speaking, it’s a good or bad film. I can’t say I’m sure either way objectively speaking about any of the flicks I see and review. I’m at slightly more of a loss than usual with this one.

See, there are these scenes of great ugliness that horrified me or made me uncomfortable, but if that was the intention, surely it’s not a failing of the film? It’s a failing of mine if it repulsed me in the sense that it made me dislike the film even if it strove for and achieved what it set out to achieve.

As I said, it confuses me somewhat. Fury is not in the grand tradition of American war movies that posit the hallowed idea of War is Hell, but We Were Righteous and Awesome and We Won. I don’t think I saw a single rah rah American flag floating in a slow motion breeze. There wasn’t a plaintive trumpet playing a variation on the Last Post throughout the soundtrack. There wasn’t any nobility, patriotism or any “tell my wife I love her”, or “I am glad I am dying for my country” type bullshit.

There’s acres of mud, there’s guys getting their faces blown off, there’s hateful morons trapped in a tank who hate the enemy only a little bit more than they hate each other, and mostly they hate themselves because they’ve crossed the line into inhumanity in order to keep being effective in wartime.

It’s almost the very end of the war, you know, that good moral war, World War II. The Allies are making their way towards Berlin, it’s April, but they don’t know it’ll all be over soon. To us their desperate scrambling across the Deutschland countryside is the unnecessary last gasp of guys trying to win glory for little reason. Or to get there before the Russians, whichever.

But to them, even if the war’s days are numbered, the conflict could go on endlessly. They’ve (the crew of this particular tank called Fury) fought the Krauts across North Africa, then through France and Belgium, and now they’re fighting them on their home turf. However skilled or determined their opponents were before, now they’re cornered rats, fighting with a suicidal ferocity.

Even if some of their opponents are children.

The crew of the tank are horribly deformed people. One of them seems to be a conscript from the most particularly-moonshine-and-incest heavy parts of the Deliverance / Appalachian mountains (Jon Berenthal), speaking and acting with an almost retarded ferocity at almost all times. Another, Bible, (Shia LaBeouf) maintains a watery, demented stare throughout, and is always either crying or on the verge of intense tears. Another guy just drives the tank (Michael Pena).

They are led by a guy who we see flat out murder a German guy on a white horse in a really personal way. He really does give him an eyeful. This guy, nicknamed Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), is possibly the most jaded, the most demented of all.

Into their midst comes a young, pure virginal soldier (Logan Lerman) who seems like he was born to play these kinds of roles, what with his skim milk pale skin and huge, wounded eyes. The tank crew are brutal towards him because they hate his youth, and his innocence, because they lost theirs so long ago.

It might sound like a list of war clichés already, especially with the young innocent hopeless soldier thrust into the crucible of war, and it is. The difference was, for me, that there is no attempt to dress up the horrible nature of what these guys did.

At first, Norman (Lerman) keeps protesting his innocence, and the purity of his conscience. He was a typist, for Christ’s sake. Sixty words per minute is a pretty good speed, even though we never see him prove this bold claim for a boy back in the 1940s.

Maybe that was the greatest historical inaccuracy that a non-war obsessive viewer would pick up on. He seems determined not to kill anyone, even if they’re a threat to himself or the other odious crew of the tank.

Wardaddy can’t have that. Wardaddy don’t play that shit. He loves the tank, considers it his home and castle, and has been through too much with the other violent, sociopathic morons in the tank. He correctly perceives that Norman’s reluctance to kill is a serious risk to their collective likelihood of survival. So he takes matters into his own hands.

I am unsure whether the flick, the writer, the intention is to say that this kind of blooding, the taking of Norman’s literal and figurative virginity, is a good thing. I am unsure as to whether it’s endorsing the kinds of shit Wardaddy forces onto Norman in order to rapidly turn him into one of ‘them’. Because it all feels so horrible to watch, at least it was horrible to me, it doesn’t feel like it’s approving of it.

There’s a toxicity to it, a deep seated unpleasantness that doesn’t seem to overcome itself and become something like a paean to War or a big wet kiss to the awesomeness of American soldiers.

At least mostly. On the other hand, it’s hard to say and probably inaccurate to imply that the film isn’t saying Wardaddy isn’t the awesomest guy since John Wayne and Lee Marvin’s DNA were spliced together into the greatest in vitro baby ever born. Because clearly it is, and it’s also absolving of his worst excesses because they’re somehow justifiable in the scheme of things. After all, he's just so darn heroic, isn't he?

This does lead to some awkward scenes, some hellishly awkward scenes, and none of the ones I mean occur in a tank. Though, yes, obviously this is a film where a lot of tank warfare goes on. Those scenes are very well done. They’re tense, they’re well filmed and edited, and really give you a horrible sense of how claustrophobic and desperate tank fighting during World War II would have been, especially, in one sequence, against a clearly superior German tank.

Norman is forced to do things he doesn’t want to do in order to achieve that state of fury where he can kill without compunction or pause, just like Wardaddy wants. These other guys have had the decency burned out of them by years of fighting, so they have to burn it out of Norman, real quick too.

Presumably that is the reason why they’re so horrible to him for 2 hours out of the film’s 2 hours and 14 minutes length.

But, ya know, War is Hell, so whatever works, huh? Plus the Nazis are just so horrible, aren’t they, so they deserve everything they get, yeah?

Considering the same writer was responsible for Training Day, another film about an allegedly charismatic cocksucker forcing a younger guy to become a horrible person for his own selfish ends, it's an unsurprising trajectory in that sense. Unfortunately for me, when the flick gets to its logical end, and Norman basically becomes exactly what Wardaddy wants, Norman is pretty much openly thankful as to everything that was done to him.

In some ways that’s the equivalent of watching an altar boy thanking the Catholic priest for the abuse he suffered at his hands, and maybe giving him a kiss on the cheek afterwards.

After a horrible scene with a prisoner, Wardaddy continues the Re-Education of Norman in a liberated town when he spies a woman in an apartment. He might as well have been rubbing his hands with glee.

Maybe there’s some ambiguity there, but it’s pretty obvious to me that after forcing Norman to kill a man to ‘blood’ him, Wardaddy forces him to rape as well in order to make him more callous, more sociopathic, more brutally alive. That might sound like a bridge too far, but the scene when the retards from the tank come up to the apartment afterwards is uglier than anything else in a flick that includes so much destruction of so many people’s bodies.

I’m really not sure how that scene was meant to work. It’s horrible, and the acting is all over the place, especially Brad Pitt, who spits at the subhuman hillbilly guy. Some other reviewers point to that scene as being the best in the flick, but I’m not sure I see it. Shia LaBeouf cries again, Pitt spits at a guy, but the dynamics of it didn’t make much sense to me. The rest of the crew seem to be acting like jealous lovers who feel neglected by their Wardaddy, but I can’t really figure out why they’re so hateful.

It’s an unpleasant movie, but shouldn’t these kinds of war flicks, in this day and age, be unpleasant? Having them play out as straight action movies with unambiguous heroes and despicable villains isn’t really necessary any longer. We have plenty of the latter, and the former are dwindling all the time. The world already has a Saving Private Ryan: it doesn’t really need Saving Private Ryan with Tanks! Fury doesn’t try to pretend to be.

Nor does it have the crutch of being loosely based on a true story. I mean, yes, sure, World War II happened, but none of the characters here existed, and their ‘heroic’ stand at the last battle in the film didn’t happen either.

So, if the individual story isn’t really true, we’re not watching something that’s a celebration of manhood or masculinity, or a coming of age story, or a story about the camaraderie of soldiers, the bond of a Band of Brothers, or the awesomeness of living with your life in constant jeopardy and how great it is to kill Germans.

We’re left with, hmm, maybe Shia LeBeouf should give up acting, and Brad Pitt really wants an Oscar, and Logan Lerman has to stop playing these lilywhite naïf roles or his career is doomed once he hits his mid-twenties.

There’s not a lot to take away from that, not much that is memorable. Oh yeah, and War is Hell, but Brad Pitt Rules!! likewise doesn’t do much for me either.

But hey, if you like watching tanks blow up other tanks or run people over, this should be like catnip for you.

6 tanks smushing bodies so they only look like the vague concept of human bodies out of 10

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“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent” – oh well, when you put it like that it makes all the difference, Wardaddy – Fury.

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