by Charles Nash

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday October 17, 2014

Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman star in 'Fury'
Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman star in 'Fury'  (Source:Columbia Pictures)

As a visceral cinematic experience that depicts the brutality of war, "Fury" certainly made me furious, but for all the wrong reasons.

Aesthetically, it's an impressive piece of work. The cinematography is appropriately grimy, the action sequences are technically proficient, and the film effectively constructs some disturbingly powerful images.

At its heart, though, it's an ugly, hypocritical piece of jingoistic macho-porn that made me sick to my stomach through its depiction of traumatized, American protagonists who've become desensitized to the atrocities of war. The film celebrates their relentless slaughters as if they're carrying out 'God's work' while sensationalizing their physical and emotional forms of anguish as a form of martyrdom. Not only are these men underdeveloped, they're also thinly drawn, conventionalized killing machines lacking any sort of vital thematic depth.

Granted, writer and director David Ayer, who served in the United States Navy as a submariner, and whose grandparents were veterans of World War II, is clearly passionate about the emotional impact that combat has on the human psyche. Still, while he clearly feels that the violence of warfare is horrid, his representations of it in "Fury" are gratuitous in a biased way that, in the end, nullifies any form of moral ambiguity and revels in it for the mere purpose of entertainment.

In a recent interview with The Oregonian, written by Marc Mohan, Ayer states that he isn't exactly pro-war, and he wanted to make a film about a 'family' of soldiers; however he later goes on to say what I think is the true reason as to why he was fascinated with this material:

"Now, there is nothing more exciting than getting shot at. There is nothing more exciting than putting rounds down-range on bad guys. Talk to someone who's done it. That adrenaline and that thrill make anything else you're going to do in your life pale in comparison."

Being someone who has never been shot at, I don't doubt that it certainly gives you a rush of adrenaline. However, based on his cliché-ridden characters and a practically non-existent plot that serves only to set the stage for mercilessly gruesome battles, "Fury" comes off as a war movie that prefers to get high off its moments of shocking violence rather than criticize them.

The film takes place in Nazi Germany during the year 1945. Hitler's defeat is inevitable. However, he and his soldiers attempt to deliver one final blow against the Allies before they eventually occupy administrations in Berlin and Austria.

A five-man team of American soldiers, led by sergeant Don 'Wardaddy' Collier (Brad Pitt), command a tank they've named, 'Fury,' which they refer to as their 'home' during the time that they serve in the military. [Side Note: You know you're watching a David Ayer film when the first shot is an extended take of a German officer riding through a wasteland of dead bodies on a white horse, only to be knocked off of his noble steed and stabbed in the face by Brad Pitt.]

Collier's troops consist of Boyd 'Bible' Swan (Shia LaBeouf), who doesn't convey that he's a born-again Christian until late in the film, making it feel like a tacked-on contrivance, as well as Trini 'Gordo' Garcia (Michael Peña) whose character traits stereotypically stem from his Mexican ethnicity, and Grady 'Coon-Ass' Travis (Jon Bernthal), a viciously impulsive wild-card.

Prior to the beginning of the film, Collier's fifth member of his division has been killed in action, so a baby-faced clerk, Norman 'Cobb' Ellison (Logan Lerman), has been deployed as a replacement, despite the fact that he's had no experience in a battlefield whatsoever. At first, he threatens the lives of everyone else in the group through his reluctance to even fire a gun, but through the course of one savage day (that's right, one day), Norman begins to bond with his fellow tank-mates as they plow through what seems like endless waves of Nazi soldiers, wallowing in the carnage amidst their pursuit to survive.

The plot isn't what I found to be deeply offensive, though; it's Ayer's masochistic fetishization of war.

The plot isn't what I found to be deeply offensive, though; it's Ayer's masochistic fetishization of war.

Obviously, soldiers during World War II became desensitized to the repulsive nature of war while serving their country overseas, and felt a valiant sense of pride when it came to their contributions. As they should, considering that it takes a lot of courage to trudge through appalling acts of bloodshed and place oneself in a hostile state of violent interactions with foreign enemies for the sake of protecting one's country.

Nevertheless, to depict the violence of war through an outlook that presents Collier and his men in such a congratulatory manner without any real sense of complexity beyond their archetypal traits makes "Fury" seem more like military propaganda than an accurate portrayal of life in a war zone.

Most of the best war films are pictures that present its subject in a raw, unfiltered fashion, without any overwhelming sense of emotional manipulation to help the viewer identify with the central characters. Francis Ford Coppola achieved this difficult task through "Apocalypse Now," as did Stanley Kubrick in "Full Metal Jacket," in which the protagonists in both of these films aren't the most sympathetic individuals. In fact, the two of them commit some truly heinous crimes out of rage, but these entries in the genre are more dramatically effective because they contain honest renditions of their mental perversions, as opposed to Ayer glossing over such monstrous behavior as 'heroic.'

The same could be said for "Zero Dark Thirty," Kathryn Bigelow's controversial masterpiece that depicts the decade-long manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. It was harshly criticized for its savagely realistic depictions of torture that the Central Intelligence Agency used to interrogate several detainees, along with its apolitical interpretations of true events. However, by creating a detached perception of its C.I.A. agents and their deteriorating senses of morality, Bigelow crafted an authentic, deeply disturbing piece of cinematic journalism that makes the viewer question, "Was all of this corruption truly worth killing one man, and was it ultimately for the country's safety, or to satisfy its bloodlust for the mere sake of revenge?"

"Fury" pretends to be invested in morally gray scenarios, but it's clear that Ayer cares much more about the unrelentingly gory set pieces than he does about social commentaries, ethical quandaries or character development.

There is one scene that features Collier and Norman entering the apartment of two female German citizens, Irma and Emma (played by Anamaria Marinca and Alicia von Rittberg) who fear for their lives as these two men with automatic weapons trespass into their household. At first, it fills the viewer with dread, making them question how safe these unarmed women are with these two gun-wielding soldiers, but it eventually serves no other purpose than to establish a male, adolescent fantasy for Lerman's character. After Norman merely plays one song on the piano, Irma swoons over him and, before you know it, the two lovebirds are fucking in her bedroom (consensually, of course) based off of Collier's insistence to create a peaceful environment in the middle of a chaotic setting, despite the fact that he could really care less as to how Irma feels about the whole situation.

Once the rest of Collier's crew shows up at the residence, though, they threaten the peaceful vibe that was finally established, but in the end, Garcia tells a poignant anecdote on how he was forced to kill horses. His story is a reminder that even these sleazy, but obviously likable, caricatures have feelings too, and that we should really care about them, 'cause they're clearly good guys since they were moved by that completely original sad-sack story.

Apart from Norman, who transitions from being a humanitarian to a trigger-happy cowboy in less than 24 hours (despite a nuanced performance from Logan Lerman), none of these people go through any kind of compelling arc. They're all clearly scarred by the barbarity of war, but we never learn anything about who these men were before they enlisted in the military, which would have been fine if they had gone through some sort of dramatic development (i.e. Jessica Chastain's Maya in "Zero Dark Thirty"). Yet, they remain static stereotypes throughout.

The only revelation these men have is before its ludicrous climax, in which the five of them face off against nearly 300 Nazi soldiers, and every one of them states unanimously that working for the military is "the best job [they] ever had." If this line were delivered within a film that had a more layered view on the occupational life of a soldier, it could have been devastatingly ironic, but not only does it play out in such a sincerely sentimental style, it feels as if Ayer believes this to be a fact as well, making it come off as a pro-military message that somehow feels both mushy and conservative.

On top of everything else, the film's manipulatively domineering score emphasizes that the viewer should be pulverized by the loss of every American casualty, but feel nothing when it comes to the antagonistic Nazis. Don't get me wrong, the Nazis are a disgusting hate-group, but in a movie that attempts to display a 'truthful' representation of war, these people aren't even conveyed as human beings, just targets that are devoid of any humanity, personality or significance for our American protagonists to mow down.

Even Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," a much better film that features Brad Pitt as a commander of Nazi killers, featured German soldiers eliciting idiosyncratic qualities that made them fascinating characters, and that picture was a wildly over-the-top revenge fantasy that didn't aim for a gritty sense of realism.

"Fury," on the other end of the spectrum, is a grisly, misguided failure, a piece of filmmaking that's reprehensibly narrow-minded in terms of its nationalistic politics and indignantly vile in its glorification of militaristic lifestyles. War is Hell, but I doubt that Satan himself would be this chauvinistic if he were living above ground during some of these battles.


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