by Brad Nelson 2/13/15
War is hell. Movie reviews and opinions about war films aren’t much easier. As you know, I thought American Sniper was highly over-rated as a film — not as a vehicle for feeling proud of American soldiers, but as a work of cinema, of actual interesting storytelling.
Fury is 134 minutes long, doesn’t lag and — incredibly, considering that my nemesis, Shia LaBeouf, is in the cast — isn’t full of the typical low-brow, juvenile-oriented aesthetic. I was surprised that anyone could make a war film these days that wasn’t full of self-consciously cheesy dialogue and hackneyed relationships.
First off, this is likely Brad Pitt’s strongest performance in a long time and one of his best films. And this is easily the best tank movie I’ve seen. But my expectations of it were low going into it, having heard my nephew, who recommended this film, say that it was “The best war movie ever.” Well, he’s a teenager. What does he know? Has he seen many of the John Wayne flicks? Has he seen The Longest Day?
But damned if this isn’t one of the best war movies ever. It’s particularly unusual because, from the standpoint of plot, there are a couple of specific missions that are clearly demarcated that Brad Pitt, as tank commander, must lead his men into. Rather than this being the typical long, drawn-out “fog of war” type of film where you have little to no sense of the battlefield, Fury is a movie that gives you bite-sized chunks of war (horrible as they may be).
American Sniper, at least to me, was little more than that blurred, undirected, “fog of war” type of movie. I really couldn’t care about any of the characters. But at the end of Fury — Jesus (as the character, Bible, played by LaBeouf, might say) — I felt like young Norman Ellison did (a rookie replacement in Pitt’s tank crew) at the start of the picture. I was a bit brutalized by it all.
This is a violent film with lots of foul language. And I’m by no means qualified to be a technical adviser to tell you that this movie, instead of that one, is life-like in terms of the action. But, brother, did this seem real — quite like the realism of Mel Gibson’s excellent (and horrifying) We Were Soldiers.
Fury follows the missions of a Sherman tank crew in April 1945, quite late in the war. The American army has pushed on into Germany and the fighting is fierce. One assumes (but I have no way of verifying) that the various aspects you see (such as the SS hanging German citizens on poles that read “Will not fight for the Fatherland”) are aspects of what the real soldiers saw and experienced.
But as much as this is a rare war movie in which you have some sense of place, even rarer is a war movie that takes an honest, hard, and subtle look at what war does to people.
Brad Pitt plays the hard, but generally good, American tank commander. He will do what he can to keep his crew alive. And that crew is about as oddball as those on Donald Sutherlands’ tank in Kelly’s Heroes (with the typically obnoxious LaBeouf, of course, assigned the role as the bible-thumper). Maybe that’s just the type attracted to tanks or is a reliable Hollywood gimmick. Whatever the case may be, through these characters — particularly the rookie, Normal Ellison (played by Logan Lerman) who is plucked out of administration to the front lines — we see the brutalizing effects of war.
Ellison starts out horrified by all of it and we follow him (shades of our own people coming to terms with “radical” Islam) as he finds out just who he is fighting. Soon he will be firing off his machine gun while shouting “Die, Nazis.” But it takes some time to get there.
But he does get there, and yet Ellison has not quite crossed over to the territory of some of his crew members who have been in it since North Africa. The best scene in the movie involves Ellison and Don Collier (Pitt) having a quiet moment with a couple girls in a town they have just taken. Ellison plays the piano, the very model of civilization, in the midst of this carnage. Later one of his truly brutish crew members comes in and fills the room with thuggishness and bangs on the piano discordantly like a monkey. The symbolism is complete. And yet we know from experience that we need these brutes, but it still is not pretty.
This is a war movie, somewhat rare, where actual character development and subtle human interest points are being made. I expected just another movie made by the typical nose-picking yutes in Hollywood and came away amazed to see a war movie bound together by truly cinematic moments instead of stale dialog and cliches.
I would in no way say the realism is complete. Several times it seems that things happen slower than they would in real life and that’s probably in order to build suspense. And the ending stretches credulity more than a little. But I can forgive it that. These are movies, after all, and the point is to entertain, not be training films.
The second best scene is between five Sherman tanks and one Tiger. You can just hear Oddball’s lament from Kelly’s Heroes echoing in your ears: “Nobody said anything about locking horns with Tigers.” But they do and it’s a terrific scene. One hopes that writer/direct David Ayer can be induced to create a movie of one of the greatest tank battles ever, the Battle of Kursk.
Or perhaps I’m wrong about this movie. Checking out one of the threads at IMDB.com (quite at random) I found this series of exchanges in a thread titled Oh, look more Jewish propaganda:
AgentZeR0: *Yawn* When can we get a good WW2 film that does not shove Jewish crap down our throats? (rhetorical question)
aks1987: As long as Hollywood is making them we’ll be forced to see such movies. Jews have their influence in American politics, Hollywood’s no big deal.
snoopsimpson: I guess the jew thing has to be mentioned in WWII movies these days to motivate the 21st century movie goer to have some hate for the Germans. Lets face it ,apart from the jew thing it’s hard to criticize the Germans for what they tried to do in Europe 70 years ago.They were back then, as they are today,the most advanced country both economically and culturally in Europe.
Honestly, unless I missed something, I have no idea what they’re talking about. This is scary, folks, to know that simmering under the surface of Western Civilization is this kind of derangement.
But I think war movie buffs will enjoy this one.
Brad is editor and chief disorganizer of StubbornThings.
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