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Fury is the most exciting WW2 combat picture in 15 years. Sony's publicity gives the examples of Saving Private Ryan and Platoon, neither of which did anything for this viewer. David Ayer and Brad Pitt's show is realistic, harrowing, intelligent and message-free beyond depicting what it might be like to be in heavy combat day after day. It's more or less accepted that the only war movies that can call themselves anti-war are those that have no combat scenes. The excitement of do-or-die fighting seems transcendent, at least when one's participation is vicarious. I've seen Fury referred to in print as 'war-porn'. I'd counter that by disqualifying the term as an oxymoron. War is obscene, and the only obscenity about war films is when they give the impression that it's something else.
World War II combat films remain in vogue because its issues are (at least a little) less conflicted than those of any of the undeclared wars we've undertaken since: peace actions, coalition responses, counter-insurgency missions. The closer our fathers (or grandfathers) got to the action, the less they wanted to talk about it when they got back. Guys who never saw the outside of offices still had friends that didn't make it, and all knew that certain kinds of duty required exceedingly tough individuals. 1
Fury's main ambition is to give us two-plus hours of intense combat with a tank crew of striking personalities. In April of 1945 the war is almost over. But the U.S. 2nd Armored Division is still engaging in fierce battles inside Germany, sometimes against crack divisions held in reserve. The crew of Sherman tank "Fury" has been together since deployment in Africa. Don 'Wardaddy' Collier (Brad Pitt) is an old hand respected by all the tank crews; tough and experienced, he has the trust of his commanding officers as well. The other three are battle-hardened survivors convinced that being with Wardaddy is a good luck charm. As his nickname suggests, Boyd 'Bible' Swan (Shia LaBeouf) is a born-again scripture-spouter. Boyd, Trinidad 'Gordo' Garcia (Michael Peña) and Grady 'Coon-Ass' Travis (Jon Bernthal) work well together in the confined tank interior. They're rough and profane men, and their casual cruelty and crudity is a functional adaptation to the conditions of their duty. The fifth crewmember was just killed, and new man Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) has no tank experience -- his first job is to mop up the dead man's remains from the tank interior. The fighting moves so fast that Fury is thrown into two actions in one day, taking a town and holding a crossroads. The killing is gruesome, and Wardaddy must practically rub Norman's face in the gore to get him to do his job shooting the enemy. They spend a lunch hour with two pretty women (Alicia Von Rittberg & Amamaria Marinca) in a captured town, but then must advance with four other Shermans in a desperate bid to shield a support division of cooks and maintenance crews against an advancing SS battalion. In an open field the column comes up against a single German Tiger tank. Even with four to one odds, they're entirely out-gunned.
If furious fighting is what you want, Fury delivers more of it than can be found in anything this side of an old E.C. Combat Horror comic. It's plenty nasty out there, with skilled troops aiming large-caliber weapons at each other at close range. People don't get shot and fall, they're blown to bits. Tanks crush soldiers in foxholes and shoot incendiary rounds that fill entire buildings with fire. The 2nd Armored is facing hardened Nazi troops, cornered on their own turf. They not only fight like demons, they use kids as cannon fodder and hang men, women and children that won't cooperate in their suicidal defenses. 'Why don't they quit?' asks an officer, and Wardaddy answers, "Would you?"
Forget the old clichés about multi-ethnic tank crews, because Fury is interested only in variety, not diversity. These are good men operating at extremes. Hick mechanic 'Coon-Ass' mercilessly badgers newbie Norman for no reason but dumb insecurity. 'Gordo' talks tough to enhance the team solidarity. Every other word is F___ this and F___ that, a useful bravado technique to avoid breaking down in shaking fits of fear. Even Wardaddy loses control of his stomach at times, just from the need to stay on task and not show the impossible pressure. Camaraderie is a required value in these circumstances, and it's backed up at all times by brutal words and actions. Although they don't admit it, Gordo and Coon-Ass are rough on Norman because they need him to get up to speed, savagery-wise, right away.
Fury's script avoids unnecessary exposition. We see the men operating the tank, and Norman is told only a minimum of how to fire his machine guns. Most of what the tank can and cannot do is self-evident. The movie knows that any war buff is aware that shells from Wardaddy's Sherman will just bounce off the front of a heavily armored German Tiger tank. Any fan of Donald Sutherland in Kelly's Heroes knows that the only way to kill a Tiger is to 'shoot it in the ass.' Karl Malden in Patton told us that enemy rounds 'don't give our tanks much trouble -- they just come in one side and rattle around awhile.' In Fury, even a single German soldier can carry a weapon capable of penetrating a Sherman tank. Tarantino is right in that everything most of us know about WW2 came from the movies.
I'd say that the violence is too intense, but times have changed. Video games and TDZM (Those Darn Zombie Movies) have raised the bar for blood-soaked dismemberment so high that the exploding heads and bodies being crushed under tank treads in Fury only seem appropriate. Even The Thin Red Line was discreet about war gore, but Fury concentrates on the physical wear and tear, and uses it to build up its tension. If anything, gut-splattering death is so frequent an occurrence that we wonder how these guys can be anything but white-knuckle, seized-up rigid at all times. They must have to act crazy just to stave off paralysis.
Ayer and Pitt only want to show what makes these guys tick, and they succeed in the film's only interior scene with the two German girls. Gordo and Coon-Ass welcomed two women into their tank as soon as they arrived; they are presumably trading sexual favors for food. Norman and Wardaddy want to have a calm lunch upstairs with their discoveries, and the other three jokers barge in like obscene beasts. Wardaddy can't keep them from being louts but he can keep them in check. Gordo apologizes, Bible becomes resentful and Coon-Ass keeps on being horrible. We get the feeling that rape wasn't a rare occurrence with American troops, just like the summary executions that occur. We suspected as much as soon as our old movies tried to convince us that un-chivalric behavior was exclusively an enemy policy.
Wardaddy has a pragmatic reason for allowing his crew to behave like jerk bastards. He needs them that way. He needs hard-case f_____s to be fast and brutal in combat... they all need to be in-control killing psychos, working as a unit. Ain't war grand?
Fury feels authentic, starting with the terrible haircuts on these guys. The show begins like the classic tank picture Sahara with Humphrey Bogart's crew arguing over a repair so they can get moving again. The duel of Shermans and a Tiger tank is certainly the best tank battle I've seen on film. Overall the action is less spectacular but more intense than that of 1969's The Bridge at Remagen. In that film G.I.'s George Segal and Ben Gazarra all but mutiny against their Lieutenant, for repeatedly volunteering them for the worst missions. In Fury there's no such discord between the ranks. The field officers are desperate, and Wardaddy puts his tank into the fight because the jobs just have to be done.
The film's savage set piece ending is a bit like The Wild Bunch, and is also preceded by a share-the-bottle drinking scene. But we don't feel that director Ayers is copying Peckinpah, as was John Milius' habit. The final battle is a whopper. At first we feel a bit impatient: it seems the German troops should have been on them in seven or eight minutes, but the tank crew has enough time to argue, set up a trap, drink, and chat for a while. We'd almost believe they could have used the time to fix the tank tread. 2
The final battle does stretch things a little. We'd think that so many German troops would find some way of knocking out one miserable tank a little more efficiently. Wardaddy wins the Pike Bishop Shot-But-Functional award, but somehow it all seems appropriate. We like the characters, we like the gritty dialogue and we like the uncompromisingly brutal action. The only irritating thing about Fury is that we're not going to get a sequel with these terrific characters.
Fury doesn't sell itself as a transcendent event picture, with a forced message about patriotism or the Cult of Warrior-dom. We don't normally expect a combat film to have award-caliber performances like these. It's said that Brad Pitt's character might have been a WW1 veteran, but there can't have been too many tank jockeys over thirty years of age. In addition to the massive scar tissue on his back, part of Wardaddy's face has sewn back together as well. One critic said that Pitt is playing the same character he played in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, which is silly -- that movie's a comedy, a meta- movie that plays games with our perverse love of war movie escapism. After 25 years Pitt eventually became a good actor; he's great here.
This is the first good movie I've seen Shia LeBeouf in, and he's terrific. Young Logan Lerman has the plum role and fills it out well, neither begging for sympathy nor trying too hard to look cool. Michael Peña and John Bernthal's tough guys seem the kind of men that would work in heavy industry after the war, buy a house and give their kids the college educations they never got. I can picture them ten years later, acting civilized, getting fat and teaching their boys to play baseball. When I was a sheltered kid back in the 1950s, I never would have believed men in intense combat situations could experience things like this. left ← up ↑ right → down ↓ left gray ⇦
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's Blu-ray of Fury is an excellent scan of a fine combat picture that attracted a strong following among action movie fans tired of the usual escapist junk. Filmed in England, the colors of the beautiful 'German' countryside look correct, as does the entire production. Rare functioning tanks were located to portray the film's rolling armor. The sophisticated soundtrack manages to make aural distinctions between various kinds of incoming projectiles. When Wardaddy is calling out what's shooting at them we can hear the differences as well.
Sony Home Entertainment has whipped up some nice extras. The touted 'fifty minutes of deleted scenes' include a lot of alternate takes on scenes, so if they were interpolated into the movie, it would end up being maybe thirty minutes longer. Director Ayers or somebody has exercised excellent editorial judgment, as this is all the stuff that would have bogged the picture down-- unnecessary exposition and disposable heart-to-heart talks. The film's final pacing, with hints of sensitivity leaking through now and then, is excellent. One deleted scene has a variation on the old "someday I'm going to buy the farm" speech, that never should have been in the script in the first place. If you're ever in a war movie, never but never talk about your girl back home, your dad's business or that ten acres of good bottom land you want to buy. It's the kiss of death. A couple of the deletions are bits of extra gore business, which shows that they didn't want to be too cynical with their final cut.
Three entertaining featurettes are nicely produced. David Ayers hosts Director's Combat Journal, which addresses the physical production. They found their five Sherman tanks plus the authentic Tiger right in England. We hear a lot about the precautions used in working with the dangerous vehicles. In Armored Warriors we're told about actual tank warfare from a couple of surviving tank corpsmen. The old men smile and laugh as they explain how they got into tanks, how rough it was and in general what it is like. They look like they've been laughing ever since the war ended, just out of gratitude for surviving. In Taming the Beast we're shown what it's like to drive a vintage tank and fire its weapons. The actors seem eager to share their experiences inside that tiny cast-iron space, which would make anybody claustrophobic.
Only the Blu-ray has the extras above, but both format releases include Blood Brothers, a more conventional cast & crew talk-a-thon. Ayers & Pitt chose guys with great personalities for this tank crew. Jon Bernthal comes across as a bull moose in the movie, but in the featurette he seems the most easygoing of the five.
A photo gallery is included; and the package contains instructions for hooking up to the Digital HD download.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Fury Blu-ray + Digital HD
1. Why did you join the Air Corps?, I asked my father. Besides the fact that he wanted to fly since childhood, he rationalized that airplanes were the best place to be. In an airplane, you're a small target in a big sky. If the mission allows, you can dodge or fight back as best you can. Many planes were shot down, but many pilots bailed and survived.
When a ship sinks it's bad news for everybody aboard, if you're just the ship's cook. Infantry? You're asking for trouble -- it's basic meat grinder duty, and they make you walk too much. But the last place you want to be, said my father, is in a TANK. You can barely see out of a tank and it stinks in there. Every mission is a combat mission. Your own soldiers hate you because they envy the protection of your armor. But the enemy has a hundred weapons specifically designed to stop tanks. They're all aiming at you. You're relatively easy to hit, and if you're hit the tank is a death trap. A tank isn't as easy to get in and out of as it looks in a movie, especially if you're wounded or on fire.
My father formed his opinion by seeing the aftermath of a losing tank battle in North Africa. The survival rate for tank corpsmen was miserable.
2. I witnessed tank fabricator, mechanic, & Teamster driver extraordinaire Pat Carmen do miracles with an ancient M-3 back on 1941. Pat located perfect rubber replacement treads and installed them on his refurbished tank in about 90 minutes, but that was under perfect conditions. Yeah, those soldiers needed the better part of the day to fix Fury, and the attention of a dedicated support repair crew would have helped as well.
The version of this review on the Savant main site has additional images, footnotes and credits information, and may be updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.