‘Fury’ Movie Review: Brad Pitt Anchors A Solid Man War Movie

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brad pitt

Brad Pitt plays Wardaddy in “Fury.”

(Courtesy | Sony Pictures)

One of the tragedies of war is the way it forces soldiers to simplify their lives. In “Fury,” Brad Pitt plays an Army sergeant commanding a Sherman tank, and the story begins right after his assistant driver’s life ends. He and his three remaining men return to the camp, pull the body out of the vehicle, and continue, because they have to. The enemy – the Nazis, in 1945, pushed back into Germany – is fierce, cornered. He gives his crew a quick pep talk, meets the dead man’s replacement and then walks away.

Out of sight, he crouches behind a truck and fights the urge to collapse, suppressing the day’s events with a painful grimace: denial is a survivalist skill. The moral complexity of the world outside the combat zone is squeezed out of existence. You live or you die, and every other thought clutters the first and exacerbates the second. Pitt’s character name is Sgt. Don Collier, but his “nom de guerre” is Wardaddy, because he has the strength and charisma of a patriarchal military figure.

Writer-director David Ayer’s goal with “Fury” is to sprinkle such weightings of ethical end into a man-to-man war story, amid tense battle scenes. He is not always psychologically coherent. Dialogue exchanges tend to be interrupted by gunshots or explosions: “God wanted us to survive”. “Are you sure we’re not just lucky?” “Well, I-” “Coming in!”

FILM CRITICISM

‘Fury’

3 stars (out of 4)

MPAA Rating: R for strong sequences of wartime violence, some grisly imagery and language throughout

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

Director: David Ayer

Duration: 134 minutes

Ayer’s strength generates suspense in action sequences, nothing more nerve-wracking than coming face-to-face with a German Panzer, a giant vehicle that sheds a Sherman shell like a gorilla crushing a fly. There’s plenty of machine gun and cannon turret maneuvering, the Americans – Michael Pena as driver, Shia LaBeouf as machine gunner, Jon Bernthal as mechanic and Logan Lerman as rookie – sweating but confident under the fire, and we never see the Germans’ faces, their disembodied voices, the harsh tone of their mother tongue doubled over the rattle and rattle of footsteps and ricocheting bullets.

The main human arc involves Wardaddy teaching the new kid on the block – Norman, a naïve trained as a typist but pushed to the front lines – to toughen up and be a man. In a way, “Fury” is about how Lerman learns to wear a game face, even if it’s not always convincing. The old story of the virgin at school is a cliché, and each member of the crew has a chance to cruelly bully the child from the start and help him later. A strong non-verbal performance from Pitt gives the story a solid anchor; although the role sometimes feels like a simplified version of his character Aldo Raine “Natt-zee” from “Inglourious Basterds”, Pitt takes charge when Bernthal is too fond of playing a hillbilly cooter, and LaBeouf struggles to give his character bible beating a lot of depth or authenticity.

Ayer’s greatest asset is his visual poetry, whether dark or beautiful or both. The film’s opening shot is of a hazy horizon, over which a glowing figure on horseback emerges; once in silhouette, the man’s hat reveals him to be an SS leader, eventually ambushed by Wardaddy, who leaps from his tank and stabs him in the head with a sickening thud. Showing German civilian refugees trudging through the mud away from the conflict, the camera lingers on a woman in a long lace wedding dress, harboring a palpable sense of despair and sadness.

In a key scene, Wardaddy lectures the child: “Ideals are peaceful. The story is violent”, which sums up the film well. “Fury” is macabre and shocking, unwavering in its depiction of the atrocities of man-on-man warfare. It doesn’t obligate us with the details of the five-man tank operation, and instead dwells on the symbolism of an armored machine ushering in a new era of brutality. This suggests that good people need to probe the dark, deep places within themselves to combat a deep, dark evil. In that sense, the film is broad and impressionistic, with the broadest of those strokes being blood red.

John Serba is a film critic and entertainment reporter for MLive and The Grand Rapids Press. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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