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Non-Review Review: Fury

Fury is an apocalyptic glimpse of warfare.

Unfolding in the last days of the Second World War, as Allied forces pour into Germany from all sides, there’s a sense that this is the end. This is the abyss. As the introductory text explained, Hitler had declared a doctrine of “total war” against these invading forces. Every man woman and child was to be mobilised against the advancing armies, in the hope that it might somehow slow down the Allied war machine. If you throw enough people at it, you might do some damage – even if it is just clogging the gears.

He will strike down with Fury-ous anger...

He will strike down with Fury-ous anger…

A movie about a tank crew enduring these last few days, Fury gets considerable mileage out of that image – of human flesh falling before the unstoppable and inevitable machine. At a couple of points in the movie, characters die with their faces quite literally down in the mud. At other points, bodies are crushed beneath the tracks of the eponymous vehicle. Towards the climax, we encounter a body so thoroughly squashed beneath the weight of the Allied advanced that it seems like an empty uniform.

Fury is at its best when it captures the sheer unrelenting terror and horror of the advancing war machine – the nihilism of fighting a war that has already been decided, and the bleak inevitability of large-scale slaughter.

Fog of war...

Fog of war…

The climax of Fury is quite explicit. Writer and director David Ayer pours on the apocalyptic imagery like it is going out of fashion. Bullets light up the evening sky like lasers. Unending hordes of SS troopers advance on our heroes like shuffling zombie hordes – it is not their skill, but their number that makes them a threat; mowing down row after row of faceless cannon fodder, our heroes discover that there are always more.

The climax is even shot in such a way that it seems like the end of the world. The battle unfolds across the sunset, casting the battle in a haunting orange/blue hue. Once night falls completely, it seems like the only light in the world is from those fires set by the opposing armies. Appropriately enough, given the title, fire and burning are a recurring motif in Fury; most of the deaths inside tanks seem to be caused by fire, while some soldiers taking sadistic pleasure in watching the enemy burn as red-hot shrapnel tears through them.

This sort of thing cannot become the norm...

This sort of thing cannot become the norm…

Fury is at its strongest in these moments, capturing the sense of man’s inhumanity toward man. This is what mankind has wrought, this is the suffering that mankind has unleashed upon itself. Here, at the point where it is pointless to continue fighting, mankind has chosen to create hell on earth, complete with all the expected trappings. It is grotesque and unsettling and haunting, and David Ayer captures the claustrophobic all-consuming horror of it all.

The battle sequences in Fury are superbly constructed. Ayer served on a submarine, and it seems likely that his experience helped him to craft these intense high-octane sequences. The movie is relentless, threatening to overwhelm the viewer – the sound mix is absolutely fantastic, creating a genuine sense of never-ending perpetual warfare. Even during dialogue or character scenes, it feels like the war is still just out of view – raging behind the tree-line or outside the window.

Tanked up and ready to go...

Tanked up and ready to go…

Fury works a bit less well when it comes to the story around these sequences. Fury feels like a collection of war movie clichés assembled into a loose-fitting plot. Ayer’s script is far from subtle – the movie is bookended by glimpses of a pale steed, reinforcing the connection between war and death. Fury teases the viewer with the possibility of normality in warfare, but this is inevitably (and predictably) shattered.

The plot of Fury is anchored around young Norman Ellison, played by Logan Lurman. It doesn’t help that Lurman is probably the weakest member of an otherwise strong ensemble, but the character’s arc is very much stock. A typist by trade, Norman finds himself assigned as a gunnery officer on the eponymous tank. As he witnesses the war first hand, his humanity begins to slip. Ayer’s script uses two big events to help push Norman towards the abyss. The first feels a little forced, but works well; the second is just clumsy.

Pitt of despair...

Pitt of despair…

Then again, Fury seems to be more about mood than it is about story. Ayer compensates for the script’s relative shallowness by casting a superb ensemble. Brad Pitt does a great job as the commanding officer whose scarred exterior matches his damaged psyche. Shia LaBeouf is convincing as the unit’s religious medic. Jon Bernthal and Michael Peña round out the ensemble as two members of the unit who have perhaps watching their humanity completely slip away.

War is hell. At its best moments, Fury seems to literalise that. The script is a little clumsy in places, but a superb ensemble helps to shore up the weaker elements. Ayer’s direction is superb, providing a vision of the Second World War that suggests the end is nigh in more ways than one.

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2 Responses

  1. It takes a not-so glamorous look at WWII that I wish more movies took. Good review.

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