Fury (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Fury (2014)

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Tank commander Wardaddy fought the Germans in Africa, then France, Belgium, and now fights Germans in their home country.  As the Allies push in on Germany, Wardaddy loses one member of his crew and has to take on a rookie in the twilight days of the war.  Fury, directed and written by David Ayer, follows Wardaddy and his crew into battle with a cast including Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, and Michael Pena.

Rare moment of calmOn a casual glance Fury looks like it would fit in with just about any other film with a motto of “War is hell.” What has always struck me about the phrase is that invoking hell means a handful of things – most notably eternal torment that ends in oblivion when God decides it’s time to begin the Rapture. Torment, no matter how agonizing, still ends even if it ends in non-existence. War is, indeed, hell in Fury. It’s also a state of mind, a way of preserving a sliver of perceived humanity even if it involves embracing the worst aspects of human nature. Fury is not concerned with damnation, but survival, and will follow its soldiers down any evil path they need to survive.

But Fury pushes things a step further and questions whether we can justify the lengths that people will go for that survival. During the opening moments a thick haze of fog settles over a field and a man riding atop a great white horse slowly crosses. Cinematic history has trained us well; this man is our hero, or some other figure of nobility able to glide over the carnage so effortlessly. Suddenly a shadow jumps from the carcass of a tank and brutally stabs the horse rider with barely as much as a grunt of effort. Did this man, who goes by codename Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), need to kill the rider so brutally?

Nothing is gained by the man’s death and by the end of Fury we will watch Wardaddy and his tank crew commit crimes that do nothing to increase their chances of survival. These are signs of a crew of people who were broken before the war and this just gives them the opportunity to act out in ways they were prepared to do so. As we watch these atrocities I was reminded of oral historian Studs Terkel’s book The Good War, and how those involved in World War II were not always in it for the heroics and glory. Fury reminds us some were just in it for the kill, created their own hell, and ended in oblivion the same as any "hero".

Brad Pitt plays a leader who has no passion behind his speeches, and only comes alive when talking about the thrill of the kill.

Brad Pitt plays a leader who has no passion behind his speeches, and only comes alive when talking about the thrill of the kill.

Director David Ayer reduces Wardaddy and his men down to the simple fury they feel when confronted with German soldiers. This reduction comes in part from a surprisingly muted color tone throughout the film. The hazy blue and fog of the introduction continues as Wardaddy and his men fight their way into the heart of Germany. This palette puts the eyes of Wardaddy and his men into sharp focus as each one’s gaze has gone dead in different ways for a long time now. The muted colors make the action that much more important to Wardaddy’s crew – it’s an opportunity to show that they are still alive and furious at a people they have long stopped giving the right to life.

As the color helps punctuate the brutal action, it also jolts us out of our singular focus of Wardaddy when it is interrupted. A colorful pin-up of some woman decorates their otherwise desolate tank, offering a moment of gallows humor as the distracting array of color almost violently clashes with Wardaddy’s murder drive. We get so used to the palette that when the story allows a break into a young German woman’s home we relax just a bit as the variety of colors come back into the frame. But when Wardaddy’s crew comes back and disrupts this idyllic break the palette slowly dulls once again. This peace will not last.

Then there’s that climax - that terrible climax. I say that not as a measure of quality, because Ayer is putting on a masterclass in direction here, but because I could not stop shaking. The full brutality of our protagonists is on display as they light a cottage on fire and launch a surprise assault against a platoon of German soldiers. Even though they are outnumbered, they are not outgunned, and they begin slaughtering the Germans while discarding any lingering wish to live. Ayer trades one palette that keeps the fury in his performers’ eyes and another brown and orange palette that fills the entire world with their hate. This scene is lit only by the gigantic fire they offer their murderous sacrifices to, so when the camera finally cuts to the German commander giving a rousing speech to his troops we see just how far gone Wardaddy’s crew is.

I eschew the term as much as possible, but Fury is visceral in the truest possible sense - a maelstrom of emotion and purpose wrapped in violence so well plotted and photographed that we understand the fights even when in the fog of war.

I eschew the term as much as possible, but Fury is visceral in the truest possible sense - a maelström of emotion and purpose wrapped in violence so well plotted and photographed that we understand the fights even when in the fog of war.

I was shaking through that entire scene, a fine way to end up after being constantly on edge through the rest of Fury. Ayer also wrote the screenplay, which hints at the character’s moral fiber with early hints about how Wardaddy only wants American spoken in this American tank. His interludes, like the scenic detour into that German woman’s home, seem to offer a break but really just punctuate the sunken morality of Wardaddy’s crew. The youngest and newest member, Machine (Logan Lerman), takes the frightened woman to bed because Wardaddy makes a veiled threat to rape her. Machine’s otherwise sincere attempt at connecting with the woman completely glosses over her obvious fear, and she is raped by someone who thinks he is doing her a favor.

Ayer, who is doing some career-best work here (and I loved End of Watch), is joined by a similarly game cast. What impressed me the most is how the cast functions as one mass of murderous impulses held together with the same dead gaze. Everyone arrives at their emotional annulment in different ways, be it Jon Bernthal with his simple lusts or Michael Pena putting on a pretentious show of authority. Shia LaBeouf surprised me as the first among equals for his quavering religious voice that serves as shaky justification for his violent wishes.

Fury does not settle for simple definitions. There is no one that could be considered a hero, even in the context of the Great War. As Studs Terkel’s book introduced and Fury reminded me, it was not only saints that went marching into that war. Some of them went out of a need that they didn’t understand, found a desire they could not satiate, and stayed until they were dead or forced back to America. Fury is a disturbing and stirring moment to the monstrous beauty of their violence, and will leave me shaken for many years to come.

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Tail - FuryFury (2014)

Screenplay written and directed by David Ayer.
Starring Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, and Jon Bernthal.

Posted by Andrew

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