Fury is not a bad movie, but it’s not as involving as it should be. It doesn’t quite feel like your standard gung-ho World War II film, but it’s close enough that you wonder why they bothered to make it. Supposedly it shows World War II in a different light, how the Americans were not all heroic all of the time, and has been praised for its attention to realism. It’s a well made film and probably is pretty realistic, but these strong points paled in comparison to the films’ lack or originality.
Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is a typist turned tank gunner in the final days of World War II. Assigned to the tank nicknamed Fury under “Wardaddy” (Brad Pitt), he struggles to adapt to his brutal new task. He bonds with the other men in the tank, “Bible” (Shia LeBeouf), “Gordo” (Michael Pena), and “Coon Ass” (Jon Bernthal), as they teach him how to be a soldier. They continue through Germany until they are the only tank left in their unit, and make a final stand against about 200 Nazis at a crossroads.
I’m trying to think of the last war film we had, and here I define war film as a film with giant epic battles, lots of male solidarity, military strategy, etc etc… so Inglourious Basterds doesn’t really count even though it deals with World War II (Tarantino has bent the genre of the war film so much here that I have to exclude it from conversation). Basterds doesn’t have a single battle scene in the whole movie. In what is far from an exhaustive search, I find/remember Clint Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima from 2006, and going back farther obviously is Saving Private Ryan (1998). I am not super familiar with any of those films, but it seems that the horrific realism in World War II isn’t actually as new as some of the Fury reviews are stating. Still, the film is a strange mix of old and new. The violence is pretty graphic and they couldn’t have pulled that off back in the day, but the film’s message itself seems very gung-ho, despite the horrors of war being shown quite graphically.
There are many horrific scenes in the movie, but overall, their power is offset by the unit’s solidarity and camaraderie. In the first half of the movie, Norman is forced to perform unspeakable acts of violence in the name of winning the war, and you can see how he struggles with it. Wardaddy guides him on his descent into brutality, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like a descent. After all, most people aren’t going to suggest that doing everything one can to win WWII is unnecessary. No matter how violent this movie gets, no one’s going to want Norman or any of the guys to stop fighting. This isn’t Vietnam, and WWII films can’t ever be as cynical as films about that conflict. It’s just not in the culture; we always care about winning WWII.
This film has historical accuracy as its main selling point. Variety reported the other day that Colin Powell and many other officials praised the film for its honest depiction of war. While that is admirable, I don’t necessarily think that it’s a film’s first nor most important job to be historically accurate. This is not a huge problem, but I think it’s more important that the film didn’t really do anything different. The film didn’t feel like it was making any groundbreaking discoveries. War is hell, we all know that. It’s an important message, that’s for sure, and I’m not trying to say something like “don’t make films about war anymore because it’s boring,” that’s not it at all. But if you are going to do it, show it with a new angle. The only thing different this film did was make the violence more graphic; you take that out and you pretty much have your standard war movie with a bunch of guys bonding in a tank. That’s a valid enough story to tell, but it would have been better, and meant more, if it had done something else as well.
Fury is technically a good movie, I just wanted more from it. It’s always unfair to criticize films on that basis, but sometimes you just can’t get away from it. The film is particularly good in its use of color, the drab browns, grays, and greens capturing the soldier’s hopelessness and drudgery very well. The more brightly colored scene with the two German women is a particular standout (in fact I kind of wish that scene was the whole movie, but this is a movie that was clearly concerned with action so I’m being totally unfair again). I greatly admire the realness of the film, shot on location with actual tanks. I still think my concerns with the standardness of the story are valid, but I also think I’m placing way too much importance on them; that’s why the tone of my review is way more negative than the score would suggest. In all fairness, even though I was disappointed with Fury it’s still a good example of a war picture.
“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
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