If there’s one message in FURY (2014), the new World War II action movie starring Brad Pitt, it’s that war is a hell that just won’t quit. Even in the waning days of the war, the fighting continues, oftentimes with more ferocity than ever before.
To this end, FURY succeeds. It’s a brutal in-your-face slugfest between Allied soldiers and the Nazis. We see heads blown off, eyes stabbed out, and even a severed face lying on a tank seat. It’s not for the squeamish.
Where FURY lags, however, and what prevents it from being a superior movie, is a lack of character development and a limiting story. FURY plays out like a slice-of-life portrait of five World War II soldiers battling against the odds in the final days of the war, as the Allies penetrate further into Germany. It’s not the most dangerous mission ever undertaken, nor is it the most heroic war tale ever told. It’s simply five men doing their job.
It’s less about the mission and more about the men, which is fine, except that this kind of a story deserves deeper character development. While we do get up close and personal with these guys, the film never jettisons its action scenes in favor of scenes where we get to know these characters, save for one, perhaps the best scene in the movie, where the soldiers share a dinner with two German women.
When FURY opens, Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) who commands the tank “Fury” has just lost one of his men, which leaves the rest of his crew, Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia Lebouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady “Coon- Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) angry and upset. Collier receives new orders to take his small group of tanks and intercept a squadron of Nazis. Even though the war is drawing to a close, the Nazis are not giving up, and the fighting is more vicious than ever. As such, the Allies are enduring heavy casualties, and Collier and his small group of tanks are being asked to do a job which normally requires more firepower, which they just don’t have right now.
Collier’s crew is assigned a new soldier, the very young Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) who’s only trained as a communications officer and is as green as a cucumber when it comes to combat. After razzing him initially, Collier’s crew welcomes Norman into the fold, even as he admits he has no desire to kill anyone.
The tanks are ambushed, and all of them are destroyed except for “Fury,” which leaves Collier and his crew to take on the Nazis on their own.
FURY was written and directed by David Ayer, who earlier this year wrote and directed the Arnold Schwarzenegger actioner SABOTAGE (2014). I enjoyed FURY much more than SABOTAGE. Ayer also wrote and directed the police drama END OF WATCH (2012). He wrote TRAINING DAY (2001), the film in which Denzel Washington won the Best Actor Oscar, and he wrote the original THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (2001).
Ayer has been around, more as a writer than a director, and of the films he’s directed that I’ve seen, FURY might be his best yet. It has a solid story, exciting action sequences, tense war action, and a competent cast. The action is fast and furious, and the battle scenes do not disappoint. Sure, more attention could have been paid to character development, and it could have used an additional plot point or two to lift it above the standard war movie, but as is it’s still a very satisfying movie.
Brad Pitt is solid as Sgt. Collier. He’s the rock which holds his men together, and he’s the driving force that pushes them through the dark places. In front of his men, he’s a bull, but alone, he breaks down, succumbing to the war horrors engulfing them. I continue to enjoy Pitt’s string of recent performances, including roles in such films as INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009), MONEYBALL (2011), and KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2011). Pitt was probably better in all three of those films, but his performance here is a good one, and it’s a role I enjoyed more than his most recent work in WORLD WAR Z (2013) and THE COUNSELOR (2013).
Just as good as Pitt is Logan Leman as green soldier Norman Ellison. It’s largely through Ellison’s eyes that we see the horrors of the war, and we watch as Ellison goes from a naïve boy to a hardened soldier.
Both Shia LeBouf as “Bible” Swan and Michael Pena as Garcia are very good, but it’s THE WALKING DEAD’s Jon Bernthal as the animal-like Travis who stands out among the tank crew. Travis is such a violent visceral character, and Bernthal has a field day playing him. As we saw when he played Shane on THE WALKING DEAD, Bernthal is a very talented actor who I hope continues to land bigger and bigger roles in the movies.
While the action scenes are topnotch, especially the tank battle in which the Allied tanks are outgunned by a single Nazi tank, the best scene in the movie isn’t an action scene. It’s when Collier brings Norman into a German home in which they find two young women. While the other men engage in wild sex with the local German women, Collier shows Norman a more civilized get-together, over a home-cooked meal. Of course, civility only goes so far, as Collier bursts into the woman’s home with a rifle and orders them to make dinner.
When Norman retreats into the bedroom with the lovely young Emma (Alicia von Rittberg), they share an intimate conversation and have what appears to be consensual sex. Afterwards, when Emma leaves the bedroom, she looks at her cousin and smiles at her. I don’t think Emma would be smiling had she been raped. The whole point of this scene is that Norman is not a brute and that he doesn’t force himself upon the girl. Then again, he’s a soldier with a rifle, and so certainly the door is open for interpretation.
Of course, when Travis, Garcia, and Swan arrive, that’s a different story, and Travis does everything in his power to humiliate and degrade Emma, in spite of Norman’s and Collier’s protestations. The range of emotions throughout this sequence goes far deeper than at any other point in the film. It’s the best scene in the movie.
I wish there had been more scenes in the film like this.
But as it stands, FURY is a very good movie. It’s a down and dirty World War II thriller which serves as a sad reminder that war is a brutal ugly business. As Brad Pitt’s Wardaddy Collier says in one of the best lines from the film, “It (the war) will end soon, but before it does, a lot more people have to die.”
For the men inside Fury, it can’t end fast enough.