Directed by: David Ayer || Produced by: Bill Block, John Lesher, Alex Ott, Ethan Smith, David Ayer
Screenplay by: David Ayer || Starring: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Jason Isaacs, Scott Eastwood, Alicia von Rittberg, Xavier Samuel, Anamaria Marinca
Music by: Steven Price || Cinematography: Roman Vasyanov || Edited by: Dody Dorn || Country: United States, United Kingdom || Language: English, German
Running Time: 134 minutes
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a good World War II movie. In this modern age of politically correct moral ambiguity, mysterious political intrigue and backstabbing, guerrilla warfare, and inflammatory military conflicts ripe with cultural division, we’ve been lost for a straightforward, honest war story. Kathryn Bigelow’s Academy Award-winning Hurt Locker (2008) came the closest to capturing the pure essence of cinematic warfare free from the confines of political agendas and suffocating cultural tension. One of the reasons The Hurt Locker was so refreshing was how most of the complaints it prompted were from servicemen and women noting various “flaws” or factual inaccuracies regarding military protocol. If those are the worst sins your war film is guilty of, then I consider that movie a success.
Fast forward six years later and we have Fury, written and directed by long-time screenwriter and burgeoning director David Ayer. The film is arguably Ayer’s most well received film yet, following his positively-reviewed End of Watch (2012). Given Ayer’s knack for good writing (he penned the script for Training Day ), I’m interested to see what he does next. He has great confidence behind the camera, as his gorgeously-shot and riveting battle scenes in Fury demonstrate. What limits his latest movie is not any misplaced sense of American patriotism or star/executive-producer Brad Pitt’s supposed narcissism, nor the bang-bang, till-the-last-man, action-packed finale, but rather the inherent limitations of its archetypal screenplay. It’s not that the screenplay itself is bad — far from it, actually; the story is well paced and the characters are likable. Rather, the story feels predictable and the dialogue recycled from countless other, better war films (namely Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan ) to which Fury will always be compared less favorably .
Where Fury succeeds is in its magnificent, pulse-pounding shootouts and nail-baiting tank battles, as well as weaving an intimate, recognizable tale around an archetypal band of war-brothers. Fury never reaches the heights of a Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers (2001), but it’s arguably as consistent as a WWII series like The Pacific (2010). Like The Pacific, Fury features awesome action, atmosphere, and mood while holding back on truly riveting characterizations or innovative insights into the nature of war. In recognition of the former, Fury looks, sounds, and feels like a born-and-bred war-beast. The battle scenes here are some of finest ever shot, and the way the bloody action is edited, paced, and constructed is mightily impressive.
As for the characters themselves, the crew of “the battle-hardened leader,” Brad Pitt, ethnic comic-relief Michael Pena, “eccentric religious weirdo” Shia LaBeouf, dimwitted and aggressive weirdo Jon Bernthal, and greenhorn rookie Logan Lerman are relatable in their own way, but limited by their stock mannerisms and dialogue. Whether one identifies them as stereotypes or archetypes depends on your level of cynicism when watching war films, but for my part I found them satisfactory, if somewhat underwhelming.
In the end, Fury is an effective, engaging war story that brings the noise when it comes to expert direction, sound editing, and action cinematography, while stumbling somewhat in creating engaging, memorable characters or a unique story. It’s unlikely that Ayer’s film will be remembered decades down the line in the annals of war cinema, but I would argue it probably should, and in any case, is a welcome throwback to the days of straightforward filmmaking. Besides, the only enemies that are more satisfying than Nazis are zombies and Nazi zombies. We should be encouraging these types of movies, as far as I’m concerned.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Ayer knows warfare cinematography and demonstrates command throughout Fury with unsettling ease. The sheer power and thematic weight of the tanks, foot-soldiers, and weaponry on display grabs your attention and never lets go. The three-on-one Sherman v. Tiger tank battle 2/3 through the movie is an awesome highlight. While the characters are noticeably archetypal (or stereotypical), for his part, Brad Pitt displays his middle-aged leadership on a motley crew of likable losers. Pena, LaBeouf, Lerman, and Bernthal may not feel wholly unique, but they’re worth rooting for. The scene featuring them interacting with a German household midway through the film is a great showcase of Ayer’s screenwriting skill and the actors’ chemistry.
— However… the dialogue is the same repetitive, recycled war mumbo-jumbo we’ve heard a thousand times in countless other, better war films. Nobody in our band of brothers grows beyond their archetype.
? Speaking of Pitt’s resiliency, the man takes not one, not two, not three, but FOUR fucking bullets (and then two grenades) before biting it. Jesus.
I don’t remember John Wayne taking four bullets and two grenades: actors today, hard as nails, eh? You’re right about war films needing to be gritty and realistic and there is a need to see WW2 from fresh angles. Two films I would suggest are German: The Bridge, about a group of young German soldiers defending a bridge in the closing days of the war. And Belarussian: the very uncomfortable viewing of Come and See, chronicling a young boy’s reaction to a massacre by invading German troops.
We rarely get to see non-propaganda films of other participants of the war, and maybe some brave directors will look for inspiration in some of the stranger aspects of what happened 39-45. Finland’s chopping and changing sides, Georgian combatants in Holland, the conflict in the Balkans. So much material, but we rarely see any of it other than post-D Day shoot-em-ups.
But Fury does sound worth watching. I’ve read some interviews with WW2 vets who were, overall, fairly complimentary about the film.
Given how WWII is widely (and rightfully) considered one of the few wars that needed to fought, how it’s by far the most “black-and-white” conflict in modern history, I’m OK with pretty one-sided pictures featuring the Allies as heroes and the Axis as the bad guys. We are talking fascist Italy, Imperial Japan, and the freaking NAZIS here, so worrying about the political correctness of the war’s portrayal isn’t really concerning to me. Clint Eastwood already did ‘Letters from Iwo Jima,’ anyway.
With that said, changing the setting of WWII flicks is an absolute necessity. The European theatre has been done to death to the point where we hardly ever see any other action from the world’s greatest and most widespread conflict. What about the African theatre? The Pacific theatre? Those eastern Eurasian theatres you yourself mentioned? We don’t necessarily need to see more POV’s from WWII (though a Nazi or fascist-Italian POV would be interesting), but we DO need some more settings. We are talking about a “World” War afterall….
On the plus side though, Fury is a great film and it features some amazing, epic action. You won’t waste your money with this one —- it’ll just seem kinda really familiar especially since ‘Saving Private Ryan’ already perfected this scenario over 15 years ago.
I watched this last night. I think as the days and weeks pass I’ll become more critical of it for the reasons you mention in your review. The action sequences are the immediate memory of the film, but ultimately it boiled down to a sort of last stand at the Alamo, and that German sniper still couldn’t take out Brad Pitt and he was a sitting duck!
Watching the ten minute ‘extra’ on the dvd I wonder if they had spent less time on the accuracy of blowing up tanks and a bit more time on the script. . . . But then, it probably wasn’t meant to be All Quiet on the Western Front, just a gung-ho action movie. It succeeded in that respect.