Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Fury: Movie Review

Fury: Movie Review

Cast: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Shia Labeouf, Jon Benthal
Director: David Ayers

They say war is hell.

And for large chunks of David Ayers' war-warts-and-all movie Fury, that's certainly the case (read into that what you will).

In this latest to join the pantheon of panzer crushers, Brad Pitt plays Wardaddy, a sergeant 
scarred literally and metaphorically by a long tour of duty. He's the head of a Sherman tank (with Fury blazoned on its gun - Freud would have a field day with that visual lack of subtlety I suspect) whose bloodied and muddied crew is faced with death during the final days of World War II, lumbering from one job to the next, escorting troops and clearing the way as the final push into Nazi territory reaches its ultimate end.

Into their number comes fresh-faced Norman (cliche number one) played with quaking fear and moral sensitivity by Logan Lerman, who's inevitably going to undergo a baptism of fire as the assistant tank driver, helping the Fury team to push into Germany. But, the further into the enemy's territory they get, the more challenges and horrors await them.

Fury is, in many ways, your typical Hollywood war movie. 

There are intense fight scenes where the explosions are bigger than anything you'd have imagined, bullets whip through the air like red and green laser beams and there's a final (reality-defying) showdown which sees the tank crew overwhelmed by insurmountable odds as they draw a line in the sand. There's also plenty of time during the final battle for speeches and soul-baring heroics which don't ring true given the level of menace apparently on their doorstep.

Plus, with the exception of the aphorism-spouting Wardaddy and the from-baby-to-man-in-one-day coming of age journey of Norman and their relationship, the men in the tank are pretty much one note - (the smart quippy Mexican, played by Pena, the hillbilly played by Bernthal and the quiet Bible reading one played by LaBeouf) - making the emotional pull of the climactic showdown all too lacking. In fact, at times, you feel the plot and its execution is lumbering and lurching as much as the tank itself as it charts a course through Germany, even though Pitt's performance rises above the rest.

And yet, there are moments where Ayers defies the Hollywood war machine conventions and proffers up something commendable which rises above the cliche of the combat and the gritty horrors in most war movies post Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan.

Visually, Fury is tremendously affecting, with striking war-torn vistas and hauntingly bleak imagery peppered throughout. 

In among the grim and mud-strewn atrocities of war (people strung up by the sides of the road, a body in a suit crushed under a tank track, half a face is to be cleaned off from the insides of a tank, a soldier on fire who shoots himself in the head rather than burn alive), there are long swathes of quieter scenes where the tedium of war and the tensions and psychology of men together are exploited to maximum effect.

None more so than one central pivotal scene which sees the stoic Wardaddy and Norman enter a German home in a liberated village for some R&R. The house has two women within and, thanks to Pitt's effectively dialled down, questionable character and almost mute performance, the simmering tension and latent uncertainty of how this play out brings out a dramatic frisson that's missing. Things are further ramped up a notch psychologically when the remaining members of the crew gate-crash the meal, adding a level of ugliness to the extended proceedings and proving a reminder of what lies ahead when the final vestiges of humanity are threatened.  

Ultimately, Fury is a solid war-is-hell movie, with scattered moments of poignancy that whimper rather than roar; the claustrophobia of the tank is under-used and the shattering of Norman's innocence is over-used. 

War is indeed hell, and while Ayers is to be applauded for his keen eye for horrific detail, his taking his eye off the ball in other areas and sub-par characters almost cause this tank to stop dead in its tracks.


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