Monday, November 03, 2014

Fury / **** (R)

Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier: Brad Pitt
Norman Ellison: Logan Lerman
Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan: Shia LaBeouf
Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia: Michael Peña
Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis: Jon Bernthal
Captain Waggoner: Jason Isaacs

Columbia Pictures presents a film written and directed by David Ayer. Running time: 134 min. Rated R (for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language).

“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.”
                                   —Sgt. Don Collier, “Fury”

French filmmaker Francois Truffaut is often cited as having said, “There is no such thing as an anti-war film.” I’ve always had a problem with this notion. I’ve been a fan of war films almost my entire life. I suppose it’s a statement like that one that would inspire Truffaut’s belief that to make a war film is to glorify war. Most critics of war films cite Hollywood’s insistence upon some sort of sentiment as the glorifying factor. But it is sentiment that allows us an entry into the human aspect of war. While war films have given me an appreciation for what it takes to be a soldier and a pretty good appreciation of history, what they have never done is make me want to be a soldier or experience war in even the most peripheral way. There is a degree of sentiment to the new war film “Fury”, but it would be hard for anyone to argue that it glorifies war.

In fact, the whole argument about whether making a cinematic interpretation of war automatically glorifies it might be part of the inspiration behind writer/director David Ayer’s latest picture. His last movie was the incredible “End of Watch”, which followed two L.A. police officers. While it certainly honored the men who wear the badge, it was hardly a recruitment film. In “Fury”, a World War II American tank crew gets a similar treatment.

They are lead by the apparently unbendable Sgt. Don Collier. As played by Brad Pitt, Collier is the Army’s ideal soldier. He totes the line. He commands respect from his troops. He doesn’t sentimentalize. He sticks to his orders, and best of all he survives. This is also where he commands the most respect from his crew. They survive—no matter the odds against them—Collier will get them through.

As the picture opens, the end of the war has become inevitable. The Germans will lose. The Allied forces are prevailing, and it seems unlikely the tide will shift in the Germans’ favor again. Still, until the end has been declared, the fight must go on. Collier’s tank has just suffered their first crew member loss in a devastating battle where theirs was the only tank to make it back. They’re given a replacement for their fallen co-driver, Norman, a kid who was recruited from the office pool. He was only supposed to push pencils, now he’s assigned to one of the most brutal positions on the front lines. No one seems especially keen on making friends. That’s a good way to lose one.

Ayers’ camera isn’t there to judge, but to observe. Judgment has little place on the battlefield. Take for example an early scene when the crew helps to take a division of Germans that have trapped a unit in a village they must secure. After all the explosions are done and the good guys have won they are gathering German soldiers as prisoners. One is an officer and the American officers have a rule that the German officers pay the ultimate price for the American lives they take. Collier tells Norman he must pull the trigger. What Collier asked seems harsh. Norman believes that mercy should be the rule at this point. It’s likely most of the audience members feel the same as Norman, but Collier’s lesson is necessary for, not only Norman’s survival, but that of the entire tank crew’s. It is the weakest link that will take a team down and Collier’s harsh tactics are necessary to prevent their demise. The execution is not done in judgment but in order to advance Norman’s mindset to where it needs to be.

What the crew doesn’t realize is that Collier is just as fragile at his heart as all of them. His tactics on the surface are what he needs to do to survive and to allow his crew to survive as well. There are more than a couple of instances when Collier finds a private moment to weep and let out his own silent scream for what he’s become. The first comes in the opening moments of the movie when Collier jumps from the tank to kill a German officer looking for survivors on a bloody battleground. After he swiftly kills the man with his bare hands, it is clear the act has disgusted Collier and he takes a moment before returning to the interior of the tank, where the crew complains about how hard he’s been riding them. The audience must see this side of Collier from moment one to understand that he is not what he appears to be before his men.

Another major character is Shia LeBouf’s Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan, the tank’s gunner. He’s been given the nickname Bible because he’s always quoting scripture and speaking of The Lord’s influence over them. He’s a Christian who does what he can in what is essentially Hell on Earth to hold onto his Christianity. His presence reminds me of the question asked of Donald Sutherland’s preacher character in the Civil War film “Cold Mountain”, how can God be the guiding spirit behind both sides of a war? Bible doesn’t profess to know the answer to this question. “I am the instrument, not the hand,” he says of his part in God’s plan. This sentiment gets to the heart of what it is to be a soldier at war.

At one point Collier is asked about the Germans, “Why don’t they just give up?” Of course, that would’ve saved a good deal of bloodshed, and at a point in the war when the outcome was inevitable, it’s a reasonable question. Collier simply answers, “Would you?” When it comes to war, it is pointless unless you are fighting for something in which you truly believe. When you’re down in the trenches, it’s easy to see the pointlessness of it all, but true strength is being able to fight anyway. This is the duty of the combat soldier. It may seem cruel and even wrong to put people through this, especially considering that doing so involves destroying other people who are only doing the same thing; however, in war it is the greater calling that matters not the individual ones. This does not glorify the war, but rather the cause of it. I can’t argue against fighting for freedom, no matter how glad I am that I’ve never had to.

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