Fury (2014) Review
Maybe there are more fitting war films to have watched on the day we celebrate the Anzac's here in Australia, but David Ayer's Fury had been on my to-watch list for some time. Finally, I sat down for some misery and I got exactly what I expected.
Fury showcases some qualities that are exciting with the director's forthcoming DC comics film Suicide Squad just around the bend. Namely, his ability to write an ensemble of five and create a dynamic that's involving and weirdly poetic at times. His film brings together a group of men who would otherwise never have even given one another a second glance, and creates a tale of a loving camaraderie in spite of the ever present conflict between them.
The conflicts of character and personality are equally a result of war. As Brad Pitt says as the lead character Don, known as "Wardaddy," "history is violent." The film makes a point of showing that, as does every other war tale today. But Ayer truly nails the aesthetic, a bleak, hazy setting that's almost always in gray. The film is like a dirty canvas, ushering its characters into the foreground of the bleak and miserable surroundings painted for them. The film shows men who are at home in the war, but also men that have been broken because of it.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the terribly uncomfortable home of two German women whom Don and young typist Norman (Logan Lerman), who is drafted into Don's tank team without ever having fired a weapon, share a meal with. There's a few reasons why Norman isn't quite our main character, despite how it may seem. There's an uncertainty about whose story it really is. Norman isn't introduced until the film has settled in about ten minutes into the run-time, and Don is the first man we see, leaping like an animal from the tank. Further, Norman bounces between leading the film, spectating the bizarre 'family' of men he's been unwillingly adopted into, and acting as a foil for Don, who sees a helpless young man who will only die and get all of his men killed in the process.
But back to that meal. When the accompanying men in the team, Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal), and Trini "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Pena), find their two comrades in the home, it becomes its own kind of battleground. There's a sick sense of base instinct simmering away prior to this, particularly when Don basically offers Norman the girl with the alternative that he'll have her instead, It's as though it's their right. It's one of the unfortunately few times that the two leading soldiers are depicted as anything but the good guys, but still the film moves on from here, and Don remains the hardy centre of the film, the ultimate good-guy despite the fact that at other times Norman is highlighted as the moral center. The other characters cause mayhem and conflict, exhibiting an inability to even sit down for a meal without acting up. They've been in the war too long.
And if Norman is the moral center, then he's very quickly shifted into his later alter ego as "Machine," a necessity for the script but a transformation that feels not quite on the mark. It's clear what Ayer was going for. The young man's loss of innocence is another driving factor, but once that innocence is lost, the film loses its emotional grip. When Norman's outburst against the Nazi enemies arrives in the midst of battle, it feels cold but not in the way it was meant. Instead, it feels hurried. There was tragedy in the young man's struggles with how to cheat the system and keep his conscience clean. In an attempt to create utter authenticity, Ayer sacrifices scripting craft. Atop of the weaker parts of his characterisations, which stem beyond Norman and onto the rather one-dimensional supporting players (who are, to be fair, written strongly with their one defining trait), the film lacks a strong plot to keep things ticking along.
As the climax counted down, I imagined a better ending. Not a better conflict, which was entertaining if for the fact that the last forty-five minutes threw thematic resonance away for heavy violence and a high body count, but a better end to Norman's side of the story. Though, there's a reason the medic's proclamation of he being a hero is echoed through sound editing. There's a sense of irony, but it's a payoff to another underlying theme that's never really paid enough time.
As an aside, film's like this are increasingly important, which makes Nolan's upcoming war film Dunkirk so much more inviting. While we as many cultures do not forget war, we are rarely reminded of its horrors. Mainstream filmmaking is for many of us the easiest way to be reminded of those horrors, and it's essential that we never forget the real men and women who suffered through those times. As we say in Australia, and forgive my ignorance if this is a more global sentiment than I'm presuming, but "lest we forget."
Visually, Ayer has crafted a stunning film. The war drama is wide-reaching in scope, but at the same time as claustrophobic as it needed to be. Its cast plays its role to a tee. The conflicts that brew within the team are intimidating and enthralling. Nowhere is the film better than when characters are clashing as the scales tip between right and wrong. As Don says, though, there is no right or wrong. What the film lacks in plot and theme it makes up for in these areas, not to mention its hopeless aesthetic, making it very clear that this is a film doused in sorrow. It's just harder to feel that sorrow for characters that are in certain ways unfortunately lacking. Fury is another example of a film that can be respected for its triumphs, but not loved for the faults of its weaknesses.