Directed by: David Ayer
Premise: Set near the end of the European Theatre of World War II, an American tank crew patrols the German countryside and takes on a fresh faced new recruit with no battle experience.
What Works: World War II is the most frequently dramatized military conflict in American history. The reasons for that are quite obvious. The war had grand stakes with clear moral distinctions between the two sides, it involved a lot of colorful characters, and the outcome was ultimately a happy one, especially for the United States which emerged from the war as a global superpower and the savior of Western civilization. A lot of the movies about World War II reflect this and pay tribute to the sacrifices of the men and women who served while reaffirming America’s self-image as a beacon of freedom. In more recent years, filmmakers have begun to approach World War II with an increasing sense of nuance. Films like Stalingrad and Valkyrie abandoned the caricature of Nazism that has dominated most cinematic representations of the Third Reich while The Thin Red Line and Flags of Our Fathers have provided a more complicated vision of the lives of Allied soldiers. Fury continues that trend and it portrays a much more morally complicated view of soldiering than perhaps any American film about the war. Fury is the story of a young newbie, played by Logan Lerman, who is transferred from a position as a typist to a gunner on a Sherman tank. He is then surrounded by grizzled veterans who have fought their way from northern Africa to central Europe and are disillusioned and bitter about the war. This is a harsh movie about the disregard for human life that is inherent to warfare but there is a complicated push and pull in the way the filmmakers manipulate the audience’s regard for these characters. There are moments when some members of the tank crew are more despicable than any of the Germans in the film but those moments are offset by scenes that cause the viewer to empathize with these soldiers as we understand why they behave the way that they do. What Fury brings to the war film, and to the World War II film in particular, is a renewed sense of the fog of war and it’s a concrete dramatization of the realization by these soldiers that they were living day to day. In between the dramatic moments there are several battle scenes that not only deliver the action that viewers seek from this kind of movie but also allow for the characters to interact and grow; the violence isn’t a distraction from the characterization but the punctuation to it. Several of these battle scenes are well done, especially the showdown between an American convoy and a heavily armored German tank.
What Doesn’t: Fury shows influence from a lot of war movies that have come before it but none more so than Saving Private Ryan. An awful lot of Steven Spielberg’s 1998 film has been copied into this story. Logan Lerman’s character is a virtual clone of Jeremy Davies role as Corporal Upham and Brad Pitt’s role is quite similar to Tom Hanks’ character from the earlier film. Saving Private Ryan established a new visual style for war films, one that became the standard look in everything from the television series Band of Brothers to 2008’s Rambo and that same style is replicated here. The movie repeats a lot of the same themes of Saving Private Ryan and a few of the plot beats from that picture. In addition to Saving Private Ryan there are a lot of familiar images, scenarios, and character beats from other war movies like Platoon and Apocalypse Now. As a result, a lot of Fury is overly familiar and the film gives the impression that we’ve seen a lot of this before. However, Fury is well acted and director David Ayer executes the material really well, and that generally makes up for its familiarity.
Bottom Line: There isn’t much in Fury that is new and it’s unlikely that viewers are going to come away from the movie with any new understandings about World War II or warfare in general. However, the filmmakers tell this story very well and it’s an exciting, entertaining, and well-acted picture.
Episode: #516 (November 2, 2014)