film reel image

film reel image

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Fury 2014 * * * Stars

Director: David Ayer
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal

War is hell. And in the case of 2014's Fury (my latest review), war is sometimes a popcorn flick. In other words, this thing is not gonna wow the Academy nor is it gonna garner any award nominations come January. It is alas, just another battlefield relic, a sort of second tier Saving Private Ryan that also lacks any sort of poetic grandeur from other WWII vehicles such as 1998's The Thin Red Line. Granted, my halfhearted recommendation will stem from it having a few decent performances and a compelling, final thirty minutes involving the protective stand of a broken down Sherman tank. But my bar for scope and sophistication via war movies has always been set very high, and Director David Ayer, who was once in the armed forces himself, unfortunately only raises it a couple of notches here.

Edited by Dody Dorn who handled Ayer's last picture in Sabotage, filmed primarily in England, UK (masquerading as East Germany), and having an opening shot that is equal parts scintillating and downright horrific, Fury is an October release that could possibly be labeled as true fact (that's if in the 1940's, killing a defenseless, innocent man wasn't a war crime and head decapitation was how every soldier bit the dust). But come on, does it really matter? As you view it, this dirty, grimy, overcast looking flick is almost plotless in its otherwise two hour-plus running time. What precludes is something minimal about a time during WWII (April of 1945 to be exact), where a five-man tank crew must take on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. They must stop hundreds of German Nazis (who else?) at all cost. So in retrospect, watching Fury made me wonder two things: 1. could what have transpired in this movie succeed more as a sort of documentary shot by an ancient TV crew patiently following a bunch of soldiers around? 2. why is director David Ayer so hellbent on having his characters one up each other, measure each other's manhood (figuratively speaking of course), and having their scenes of conflict being taken way too far (beyond the point of reason)? There's a sequence where these five grubby tankers sit down at a dinner table to eat with two German woman. It's drawn out, cruel, boring, and unnecessary.

Regardless, the cast in Fury is for the most part, pretty decent besides the clunky dialogue that they sometimes have to belt out. Sure, they are your typical war stereotypes with lousy attitudes, born to kill instincts, somewhat fake southern accents, and plenty of nasty battle scars. But their acting is way better than in any John Wayne war film (The Green Berets, ugh!) or any John Woo war film (Windtalkers, double ugh!). First off, there's Brad Pitt looking Kelly's Heroes chic in the title role as Sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier. His character is the leader of the five-man crew and his performance sort of riffs off his Nazi-hating role in Inglorious Basterds. Is it entirely similar? Sort of. But where his Lieutenant Raine in "Basterds" was more of a cartoonish impersonation, this is something much deeper. Then we have young Logan Lerman playing effectively, the rookie US Army Private Norman Ellison. He's been a working actor for fourteen years (and he's only 22). Here's hoping this role is a sure-fire breakout one for him. And for the record, his frightened, bewildered military rook reminded me solely of Jeremy Davies as Tim Upham in "Ryan". Finally, we have Shia LaBeouf giving Fury its strongest performance. I've always thought of him as being extremely overrated as an actor. But when you put a mustache on him, he totally immerses himself into his role as a bible-thumping Technician 5th Grade. His Boyd Swan is a stultified standout. As for the other two thespians that make it up the gritty five-men crew, well we've got Michael Pena (an Ayer veteran) and Jon Bernthal. Their roles are equal parts token, bigoted, and misogynistic.

Performances and direction are key, but when Fury is about to reach its forgone conclusion, the film score actually becomes the main star. It's stirring and it deviates from the pedestrian battle scenes that clearly lack the brilliant technicality of the similar themed (and similar looking) Saving Private Ryan. As mentioned earlier, Fury is sadly, a unintentional popcorn flick rooted in the concept of being non-monumental. It will entertain you like any other vague action film. But the battle sequences depicted (and there are many) are not that compelling. I mean, they are violent but they are laughably rooted in midnight horror fare more than anything else. Case in point: an M4 Sherman tank runs over an already dead corpse and it's the equivalent of a motorcycle squishing a pop can. Also, the outside, facial imprint of a mutilated assistant bow gunner is shown in detail and it would make Hannibal Lecter (or even Nic Cage's Castor Troy from Face/Off) supremely jealous. Anyway, towards the end of Fury's exhausting third act, Pitt's Collier grabs a bottle of liquor, takes a long, slow drink out of it and says, "that's better than good." The same can't quite be said about this rollicking grimfest. It's just good enough so I'll roll with a three star rating.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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