'Fury ' at War with Itself

By Debruge, Peter | Variety, October 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

'Fury ' at War with Itself


Debruge, Peter, Variety


FILM REVIEW

'Fury ' at War With Itself

Fury

Director: David Ayer

Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena

Some feats are unforgettable: We remember the Alamo, and the 300 Spartans who died at Thermopylae. But a five-man American tank crew (four men and a baby, to be more accurate) overwhelmed by a platoon of German soldiers? Not only did the standoff depicted in "Fury" never happen, but it will likely be long gone from moviegoers' memories six months from now, after Sony's marketing blows over, and people go back to watching "Inglourious Basterds" - the other, better pulp World War II movie featuring Brad Pitt as a heavily scarred, slow-drawling Nazi hunter. With a disappointing domestic reception ahead, David Ayer's first big-studio foray as director will rely on a strong showing overseas, where its fantasy of American exceptionalism will seem all the more egregious.

Until now, writer-director Ayer has largely focused his attention on gritty police dramas in Los Angeles, Tasering the genre back to life with such tell-itlike-it-is pics as "Training Day" and "End of Watch." In "Fury," set during the waning days of World War II, as the Allies advance on Berlin and the Nazis put up vicious resistance on their home turf, the director's focus shifts to military his- tory. As such, the project marks a massive step forward in both ambition and scale for Ayer, but also brings disappointment. Though colorfully embellished with authentic detail, and logistically complex to bring to the screen, Ayer's script is bland at the most basic story level, undermined by cardboard characterizations and a stirring yet transparently silly climactic showdown.

Even so, the film benefits from the scribe's usual research-based approach to capturing the tight, honor-bound dynamic of those serving on the front lines, enriched by his ear for precise (and period-appropriate) technical patter. The pressure-cooker atmosphere is enhanced by the fact that Pitt's Sgt. Don Collier and his men are sardined into a Sherman tank in which they've been serving since North Africa. They all have nicknames (Collier's is "Wardaddy"), as does the tank itself: "FURY," menacingly painted in capital letters on its 76mm cannon barrel.

It's a marvel of military service how men who might despise one another in civilian life can become like brothers in the field, and here, we get a sense of both the off-color squabbling and the deep-rooted camaraderie among these virtual siblings. Wardaddy's team includes the Scripture-quoting "Bible" (Shia LaBeouf), Latino driver "Gordo" (Michael Pena, affecting an early-century Mexican accent) and barely evolved swamp-rat mechanic "Coon-Ass" (Jon Bernthal). Ayer introduces the team from within the tight confines of their tank, a space that doesn't yield many good angles, but allows for some nifty lighting tricks.

Norman (Logan Lerman), a clean-shaven, wet-behind-the-ears Army typist assigned to join the group at the outset, serves as the audience's proxy, allowing Ayer to show us the ropes as the kid is forced into a situation more intense than he's ready to handle. The poster boy for S.L.A. Marshall's infamous statistic, found in his book "Men Against Fire," that an estimated 75% of American troops in World War II never pulled the trigger for the purpose of killing, Norman has serious reservations about handling the machine gun he's assigned. But he grows up fast as tough-love Wardaddy treats the kid like his own "war son."

Opening and closing with corpsestrewn battlefields, haunting evidence of the aftermath of war, "Fury" looks less like recent war movies - with their modem, handheld camerawork and emphasis on immersion - than the more classically framed studio pics of an earlier era, where careful attention was paid to meticulous compositions. …

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