★★★★ / ★★★★
Great war films offer at least one image that makes an imprint in our minds. For instance, in Elem Klimov’s “Idi i smotri,” a boy uses a cow’s corpse to shield himself from a rain of bullets and in Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” a little girl wearing a red coat stands out against a monochromatic background. In “Fury,” written and directed by David Ayer, the memorable image is that of a young, armed German soldier coming across an equally young American soldier but the former chooses not to turn in or kill the latter. It is likely that some people will ask why that Nazi soldier chose to be merciful, but what is certain is the writer-director made the right decision not to provide an explanation.
Logan Lerman plays Norman, a clerk typist who is assigned to join the crew of Sergeant Collier (Brad Pitt) when word got around that they are need of a new bow gunner/assistant tank driver. Norman is convinced his new role must have been a mistake because he was trained to type up to sixty words per minute, not to handle a gun, let alone murder another man.
The film is unlike many war pictures for several reasons. Although we know that the story takes place in April 1945 Nazi Germany, there is no big mission presented that will serve as a turning point of war. In addition, the story unfolds over only two or three days. By compressing its scope, it must employ details specific to the characters’ experiences to tell a story that is interesting and engaging. People who grow bored watching this movie are likely to have boxed themselves when it comes to what they expect from a war film: a fantasy where big, heroic action sequence happens every fifteen minutes, where good always triumphs over evil. This one, on the other hand, is courageous enough to leave a bitter aftertaste.
It allows us to get to know the characters as soldiers and as people. I found insight in Norman not wanting to kill even though he knows why he is there and the enemy will not likely think twice before killing him. I found Collier’s leadership tough but necessary and Pitt envelops the role so completely, at one point I was curious how his character must have been like before becoming a U.S. soldier. Scenes between the rookie and the veteran command power because there are two conflicting ideologies on screen.
Jon Bernthal, Shia LaBeouf, and Michael Peña also do a wonderful job making their characters memorable. Bernthal employs an animalistic, intimidating, highly unpredictable personality while Peña provides a bit of humor to an otherwise grim trek across war-savaged lands. I was most surprised by LaBeouf because he is able to turn his deeply religious character into a person I would like to know. The performer almost always has tears in his eyes—as if his character has nothing left to give, his faith, in a higher power and his fellow crew members, being the sole element that propels him forward.
I found the gray, foggy look of the picture to be beautiful. To me, the fog is like a population of ghosts from a distance, remaining on Earth because the skies have no more room for new spirits. We see violent images like people’s heads being blown off and men choosing to kill themselves because being burned alive is too painful, but the film is more than just about violence. It is about living in an apneic nightmare with little to no hope of waking up from.
“Fury” is not one of the most extreme war films I had ever come across. However, it is several levels above many mainstream American war movies because this film wallows in the muck of war and it is willing to share details of war changing people as a way to adapt to impossible situations. The scene with the two German women who make an appearance in middle of the picture creates then bottles up so many conflicting emotions that I detected a whiff of the late Alfred Hitchcock.