Posted on October 16, 2014 at 5:58 pm
History, Winston Churchill reminds us, is written by the victors. But sometimes those victors have some second thoughts, more complex thoughts, about the nature of heroism, patriotism, and the spoils (in both senses) of war. And sometimes people want to comment on contemporary conflicts but find that it is more compelling in an historical framework. That is how we get “Fury,” a fictional story set in the last days of WWII, with Brad Pitt as “Wardaddy” (everyone gets a “war name”), the leader of a tank team pushing through an increasingly desperate Germany.
“Fury” is what is painted on the gun barrel of the tank. Death, both German and Allied Forces, is everywhere. Our forces, we are told at the beginning, are “outgunned and out-armored,” with “staggering losses.”
The first person we see looks like a cowboy hero, a lone figure on a horse, silhouetted against the sun. He is not a cowboy and he is not a hero. He is about to be killed, and not in a Hollywood, glamorized, bang bang way.
“It will end, soon,” Wardaddy tells Norman (Logan Lerman), his fresh-faced and terrified new driver, a kid fresh from the typing pool who has never been in a tank or fired a gun in combat. “But before it does, a lot more people have to die.”
I’m in favor of movies that show war as brutal, morally compromised, and horrific. Ultimately, though, it has to have more to say than that. It is a movie, a work of drama, and if it is not going to be about something bigger than how terrible war is, it runs the risk of making the very horrors it depicts turn into entertainment and have exactly the opposite impact from the original intention. Steven Spielberg did it with “Saving Private Ryan,” making both the personal story of the individual characters and the larger story about sacrifice and honor compelling and meaningful.
But writer/director David Ayer, whose previous films included the pulpish law-and-order “SWAT,” “Sabotage,” and “End of Watch,” is no Spielberg (though this film borrows a lot from “Saving Private Ryan”). This film tells us very little about history, war, or the human experience.
Parents should know that this film includes very intense and graphic wartime violence with many characters injured and killed, executions, disturbing images, sexual assault, looting, constant very strong and crude language, drinking, smoking
Family discussion: How does this differ from other portrayals of WWII combat? What are the different ways the men in this movie cope with the moral compromises of war? Why did the men choose “war names” and what did they signify?
If you like this, try: WWII dramas “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Big Red One” and the Israeli film “Beaufort”
3 Replies to “Fury”
A commenter who wishes to remain anonymous has allowed me to post the comment he sent privately: I can’t believe the lack of discussion following your review of Fury. You hit this movie right on the nose with your review. I left the theater feeling empty and abused. At no time did the director transcend the brutality of the subject matter which–as you put more elegantly in your review–is the mark of a good war film. Was this an homage to the greatest generation? Or a deconstruction? I struggle to understand why meta-critic scores from sites like Rotten Tomatoes give movies like this preferential treatment.
Keep up the good work.
Prompted by your anonymous commenter, I’ll add some discussion. 🙂
I saw Fury twice in the theater, once with each son, and would give it an unqualified A. Not only was I impressed by the movie both times, but it facilitated terrific discussions with both sons about the reality of war versus the desensitized experience that they have from their first-person-shooter video games – which I detest.
I appreciated your review, which I read after the first viewing, but I had a different take on the film. Using your review as a framework:
Here’s what I learned about history: no on knows it is a month from the end of the war until the war is over, and even as we were winning it was brutal as our guys were fighting the enemy in his homeland. I don’t know that I knew that.
Here’s what I learned about war, that I wanted my sons to hear: “You are here to kill him. You know why he’s here? He’s here to kill you.” That gets the point home.
The human element was in several elements of the story. The new guy joining the battle-hardened crew. The townsfolk caught up as the battle moved through their town. The desperate captain that doesn’t have enough force to meet his mission.
The human element for me was in Brad Pitt’s amazing characterization of a Sargeant, having to lead his men after repeatedly being given impossible orders by his officers. I probably was tuned in to that, having been a Sargeant. You have to lead your men, yet you still need moments of separation from them – as when he went between the tanks and almost lost it, or when he needed a moment of civility in that captured town but didn’t invite all of his crew in.
The second time that I saw the movie, I mostly noticed Pitt’s performance. There a few movies when he gets the impossible order, it registers on his face as you’ve got to be kidding me, the he stoically goes and leads his men to do it. I found Pitt’s performance amazing.
I’d go see it a third time.
It’s always great to hear from you, Randy, and I very much appreciate your comments — and agree with most of them. I especially agree that the movie did a good job of portraying the last days of the war, and the brutality to the spirit from what we ask of our heroes.