Written by Ankit Ojha
What to Expect
David Ayer is a very difficult director to predict the quality of movies he makes. one the one hand, he writes a terrific Training Day; on the other, he delivers a slightly less than awesome Street Kings. On the one he breaks the rules of action with the highly acclaimed End of Watch, and on the other, he turns up with Sabotage.
This makes Fury a fairly hard film to expect too much out of. The trailers and the rest of the promotional material do show a ton of promise, but with the case of Ayer, quality and consistency don’t usually seem to go hand in hand.
But of course, there’s the stellar cast consisting of the likes of Brad Pitt (Seven Years in Tibet), Logan Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Shia LaBeouf (Nymphomaniac), Michael Peña (End of Watch) and Jason Isaacs (television’s acclaimed Awake). And you can’t really discount the fact that Ayer – who also doubles as writer, like with almost every directorial venture of his – has an insane bunch-load of talent. He’s got heavy potential that’s hard to ignore, despite his misses as an overall filmmaker.
For those who do not know of Ayer though, they already have their green signal right in place for the film due to their appropriately dramatic, stunningly well-done trailers, which screams loud and clear that in terms of its voice, it doesn’t aim to be a Saving Private Ryan by any means. What one needs to see is if the movie then matches the poignance that was Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.
What’s it About?
April 1945. The second World War is now seeing it’s final leg of the European Theater of war. Allies are making their final push into Nazi Germany, despite increasingly maniacal resistance from the Nazis themselves. Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt) heads a tank called “Fury” which, with his five-man crew, has nowhere else to go but forward, come what may. The loss of an assistant driver forces inexperienced desk clerk Norman (Lerman) to be thrust into the position of assistant driver within “Fury”. Collier is faced a double-edged sword of a challenge when he has to balance making Norman an independent soldier whilst also protecting his crew.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Whenever people talk World War II in film, they mostly always refer to what’s easily the most remembered film in this genre and sub-genre – Saving Private Ryan. While most might argue that there also exists Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, the former is better fit in comparison to this film than the latter, particularly because both the films, apart from having a dazzlingly talented cast each, are also World War II movies. This makes Ayer’s job sizably difficult, doesn’t it?
In fact, more than anything else, the question is whether Ayer would be able to successfully helm a World War II movie whilst also bringing a lot of difference to an already oft-tried genre-action-drama film which Spielberg mostly hit the nail on the head toward. Here’s the good news: he does, and how. Right from the opening shot, you’re given an outlook into the dreary, dirty, debris-filled world the writer-director is leading you into. The imagery is both morbid and absolutely stunning, and hits the nail of how the movie will pan out right in the head. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov (The East) delivers up some stunning frames, with just the right mix of lighting and atmosphere to cut into the audiences well enough. A particular scene in which a tank crosses a heavy quicksand-ish puddle hiding a lifeless, ravaged dead body of a human has been executed brilliantly and is bound to send a huge lump down peoples’ throats.
It’s quite clear that Ayer uses technique more like a weapon to his oft-times commendable writing and direction than as a crutch. This has been exemplified in the experimental-yet-successful End of Watch, which used technique not as a gimmick but as an absolute weapon to tell a rather interesting story with interesting characters and inter-character relationships. Here too, he uses scintillating cinematography – almost another character in the film – to help him with the story, and to help the viewers absorb the universe the characters inhabit.
Which brings me to the characters. Those of Pitt and Lerman are superbly written. It’s a different story that the casting choice brings out the best in the written characters, but you’ve got to admit that without the writing, it wouldn’t be possible to bring any possible brilliance out despite even the most desperate damage-control casting possible. Michael Peña’s Gordo is what would stereotypically hit a particular replay spot in other movies. Not here. While you feel it’s going there, this guy’s fleshed out to be an absolutely real human being – and that’s exactly what works. It’s true that every one of the five mainstay characters has a particular job to do, but the good thing is their job doesn’t hit all the stereotypes possible. For example, most leaders have a very structured character; and here too, you get to think the same thing, until, of course, you’re witness to that one crucial scene of the almost-breakdown Pitt’s Wardaddy walks away to indulge in for a few seconds, before he needs to snap out of it. That’s what changes your outlook of him as a character completely.
There are a lot of things a host of people watching the film will have major issues with; the first and foremost issue of all of them being inconsistent pacing. There’s a scene that follows them capturing and winning over a certain locality, where they make a pitstop at a house for food and other things. There’s a lot of dynamics going on; implications of a fatal romance between Lerman’s Norman and one of the dilapidated place’s residents; the reminiscence of previous wars and the desperation to make Norman feel terribly insecure; the shamefully out-of-hand misbehavior of Bernthal’s absolutely dislikable Coon-Ass; and a ton of other layered elements. One of this understandably long scene’s advantages are that it helps build character, apart from being a breather in the middle of the film’s high-octane first and third acts. It, however, cannot be denied that to a very huge set of people, this scene may serve as an unending speed-breaker of sorts – not the greatest feeling when you’re in the midst of a film you desperately want to move more than anything else. On a more nitpick-y scale, there are moments when you as an audience will question the actions of the individuals the actors play in the film. Of course, that might just be because of the extensive moral panic us as an audience are psychologically riddled with. Like Wardaddy states in the film, however, “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” And the film’s main aim in itself is to show how violent history can get, without for a single second playing the glorification card – which could have been just as easy.
The movie’s filled with production design that suitably projects the raw and desolate atmosphere the movie plates out to its viewers. Add to that some absolutely fantastic action set-pieces filled with just the right amount of visual effects that pump up the tension. Of course, the action sequences wouldn’t be what they are right now without the inclusion of editor Dody Dorn, who’s known for his Academy Award win for best film editing in Christopher Nolan’s highly acclaimed Memento. His sharply timed cuts make for ramping up the tension very well. There are a couple of long takes he’s decided to leave, which add to the dramatic flair of the film quite well. Yet another Academy Award winner Steven Price (Gravity) joins in to give the film – and us as an audience – a dramatic score that supports scenes of drama and action superbly.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Logan Lerman and Shia LaBeouf are two of the film’s biggest surprises, delivering absolutely powerhouse performances in the film. With Lerman taking it up notches from where he left off in The Perks of Being a Wallflower in terms of performance, LaBeouf hits the audience with his display of repressed emotion that’s hard to explain in words. Far away from his Transformers days, and fresh off his promising stint in Nymphomaniac, he comes on his own as a performer, bringing with him some hope on his film choices for the future.
Brad Pitt, as usual, is an exceptional actor, who delivers highly in a film that requires of him to become a very specific mix of stern and vulnerable. He’s damn brilliant and relatable as a character, and nails his role right in the head. Jon Bernthal (television’s The Walking Dead) is in huge form as the douchebag of the crew, and gives his all into making himself look dislikable enough. In one of the character’s absolutely genuine, Bernthal’s character reveals to Norman that he thinks Norman’s “a good man”, whilst simultaneously admitting that he’s a part of those who aren’t. Not only is that scene a terrific inclusion into the other dimension of the otherwise repulsive character, it’s Bernthal who nails the scene with his awkward-repressed-vulnerable emotion coming off just perfect. Michael Peña also delivers a suitably controlled performance, getting it right through and through. Jason Isaacs has a short role, but he’s great to have on screen. Others are fairly convincing.
Fury is ultimately a difficult film to make, as instead of pitching down a huge film full of too many people, Ayer has focussed simply on five people, making them and them alone the mainstay of this war movie. Tonally reminiscent of such classics as The Thin Red Line and Apocalypse Now, the movie packs in a lot more action and a lot more intimacy than would ordinarily be needed in a film of the type of its inspirations. Riddled with pacing issues and with the doings of the characters meant for a relatively open-ended audience, the film may ultimately have what superficially looks like its share of flaws. But look into it deeper, and you most definitely have a respectably made movie that understands that a lot of things need to be told as they are. This does not by any means make it any more realistic than any of its counterparts. Of course, what it does make it is a brutally honest actioner on the shocking brutality that war actually is, that shows us as an audience what’s it like to struggle with moral panic and the matters of conscience when those are unfortunately the last things you require in situations the characters are in. Filled with breathtaking cinematography and shockingly brutal-breathless action set-pieces, the movie ends up being a definite big-screen experience on the horrors of war that supports itself through a journey-driven plot and a lot of deserved character-driven substance.
Star Rating: 4 / 5