The Bock’s Office: World War II film ‘Fury’ hurt by delayed payoff
October 23, 2014
There are thousands of accounts of the American military's exploits, all of which are worth hearing to get a greater picture of how our nation was strengthened during its hardest times. You want to believe that every depiction of these folks is an accurate and glowing one, but a film like "Fury" shows you can't always reach high expectations.
In spring 1945, the Allied Forces of World War II are nearing victory as they push through Europe, but the skirmish continues as hard as ever as the Nazis refuse to admit defeat.
Key in the fight is a fleet of Sherman tanks, among them the 66th Armor Regiment, 2nd Armored Division. Within one of these massive machines, christened Fury, is a crew led by Army Staff Sgt. Don Collier (Brad Pitt), better known to his men as "Wardaddy." These hardened soldiers include devout Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf), rowdy Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal) and even-keeled Trini "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Peña).
In need of a fifth to fill their tank after a casualty, the team gets the last person they could have expected or wanted in the form of timid Pvt. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), almost entirely new to the military and limited to office work until now.
Norman's lack of experience does little to win him friends, and he starts to become a liability as the group continues its mission, leaving Wardaddy to think he should either take the rookie under his wing or cut him loose.
After his role as the agreeably sadistic lieutenant of "Inglourious Basterds," you'd expect more of the same from Pitt, but five years later in life, he seems intent to play the part of the world-weary superior instead of the gung-ho fighter. Collier is no less intense than Aldo Raine, but there's little personality to be found as he attempts to lead by example.
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Lerman's deer-in-headlights act that he's used in nearly every movie he's starred in is starting to wear thin, though it feels appropriate as he plays one of the hundreds of wide-eyed American men who only had two options after joining the war effort: figure out how to function or get out of the way.
There's another alternative Norman comes to find right away, when he's forced to mop up his predecessor's remains before he can even take his gunner's seat within Fury. Nothing like seeing half of a human face to get you excited for your new job.
The colorless characterizations are widespread within this war vehicle, LaBeouf is a bore as the gang's go-to proselytizer, spending his time spouting off about the morality of the time and whether or not Jesus loves Hitler. On the other side of it, if there were an opening in the Dirty Dozen, Bernthal's nasty Grady would probably try out and not make the cut as a Southern boy who's mostly talk when it comes to toughness.
Peña, a welcome addition to any cast, neither adds to nor detracts from the story. Gordo's sole defining characteristic is his Hispanic heritage. He may be the driver of the tank, but he can't help the action go any faster.
Writer-director David Ayer's version of war is a messy one, both in the many crushed, burned and otherwise mangled corpses that fall to the ground — bringing to mind the bedlam of the opening scene of "Saving Private Ryan" — and in the way Fury and its many reinforced metal brethren are shown onscreen. The artillery flies from guns and turrets as you'd expect, but the men behind the triggers and loading mechanisms are shown in an odd, erratic manner that's not much better looking even when they're out in the fresh air.
Only someone who was there 70 years ago could tell you if the amount of four-letter words used here is accurate of the Greatest Generation, but it's more than just their language that makes Wardaddy and his boys off-putting. Either you buy into their cynicism about their time overseas or you wait for the moment when they show some true heroism, but it shouldn't be this hard to warm up to American soldiers, even when you're trying to show them as complex, overworked individuals serving a purpose greater than themselves.
"Fury" is too polarizing to declare successful or a bomb. It may be seen as the greatest World War II movie to date by some and by others, a futile effort by Hollywood to tell a story that's been done better.
For what it's worth, the clumsy beginning and murky middle lead to a conclusion that, like most of Ayer's films, will leave you awestruck regardless of your personal feelings about the rest of the content.