What “Saving Private Ryan” did for the frontal assault and combat realism, and “Das Boot” did for the suffocating horror of dying in small, enclosed spaces and what “Platoon” posited about struggling to retain ones humanity and soul while taking other men’s lives….. are all met or surpassed by “Fury”.
April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant with the nom de guerre “Wardaddy” commands a Sherman tank (“Fury”) and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Out-numbered, out-gunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, “Wardaddy” and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.
This David Ayer-directed film relies on the gritty realism that he used to good advantage in both End of Watch (2012), Training Day (2001) — two well above average cop dramas set on the bad streets of the LAPD’s Ramparts Division. But in “Fury” Ayer also relies on his experience as a sonar technician on a nuclear submarine, the USS Haddo. He arrived on the sub as a “NUB” – a Non-Useful Body; he didn’t know the ropes and found it was hard to fit in. He was a cog outside of the machine.
This experience served him well in the tank’s claustrophobic confines and especially with the character of “Norman” (“normal”?) who is assigned to the tank crew as a replacement assistant driver. His first order is to clean the inside of the tank … of the remains of his predecessor.
It is Brad Pitt’s job as “Wardaddy” to make Norman a member of the crew immediately… he knows what the rookie does not know… everything you were before must be set aside in favor of killing and surviving which are now one and the same. The questions of ones soul, morals, ethics and words like “mercy”, “justice” must simply be sidelined until the Germans quit.
Pitt’s character overwhelms the impossibly young-looking Norman, played by Logan Lerman until he is broken down flat and then immediately rebuilt in the image of the Fury crew… a killer and survivor with no time or need of platitudes of right and wrong; those are the intellectual distractions best left to college professors far, far away from the din of battle.
None of this is to say The Fury’s crew is morally bereft of spiritually and lost….. the aptly nick-named “Christian” (well-played by Shia LaBeouf) again and again cites scripture and Biblical parables and good-naturally tolerates and counter-punches the jabs of his close-quartered comrades who do not lack humanity, they just cannot seem to recall where they placed it so long, so many battles ago.
After Norman has acquitted himself admirably in battle one of the crew — the worst of Norman’s tormentors — turns to the former clerk-typist and says “Norman, you’re a good man… the rest of us aren’t, but you are a good man.”
In his way, Pitt’s Wardaddy is the repository of all the crew’s breaking point psychological shell shock as he wearily struggles to make good on his promise to see that “everyone gets home”; he is deeply tormented himself but refuses to show it to his crew.
Some of Fury’s best acting is seen, not heard it’s just great, non-verbal, physical acting ….. Director Ayer takes good advantage, framing extreme close up shots to portray the pain and suffering, the reactions to deaths and dying within arms’ length which are etched on every scarred and filthy face; their shoulders slump under the impact of too much, too ugly.
The five crewmen strain and fight their weapons from inside Fury whose steel hulk can become their collective coffin in an instant or at any wrong turn. But tactics eventually demand they dismount, leaving behind her maternal embrace to face the enemy individually and unprotected.
Fury is great film making …. a simple story told well and it has done its part in raising the bar of Hollywood’s idea of war and combat; perhaps at long last those so quick to point fingers and spew clichés about the military might pause a moment and see themselves, or if not, their fathers and grandfathers in Fury’s crew as they fight to “come home” and struggle to reclaim their humanity in the process.