"Ideals are peaceful. History is violent."
Wardaddy [to Norman] in 'Fury.'
Set in the waning months of World War II, 'Fury' starts with serene moment: A lone soldier is riding on a white horse through the fog. It's only after the fog dissipates that you notice that the soldier is riding through a battlefield strewn with damaged and abandoned American Sherman tanks. The soldier doesn't get far before another soldier ambushes and kills him. The killer is Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), who soon joins his compadres in their dilapidated (but still functioning) tank, nicknamed "Fury"--frantically being worked on by mechanic and missile loader, Grady (Jon Bernthal).
Pitt of course plays the anchor role of the steely eyed weathered veteran who has fought on two continents. Rounding out his crew are Bible Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Gordo (Michael Pena), and a recently deceased unnamed soldier. Wardaddy takes his crew back to base and tells a disappointed young Lieutenant (Xavier Samuel) that none of the other tank crews survived. As the Lieutenant gives orders, some of the other Sergeants gruffly joke that the Lieutenant isn't even old enough to shave. This is a common cliche in war movies. A young, inexperienced, lieutenant is sent into the field to command a weary battle hardened, strong-willed Sergeant. The Sergeant always knows best and the young lieutenant never lives long. This proves to be the case in 'Fury,' but Wardaddy is more complicated than he appears to be.
Were it not for the prevalence of so many war movie stereotypes, 'Fury' could have been a great film. Director David Ayer ('End of Watch' and 'Harsh Times') did an admirable job depicting the horrors of war and 'Fury' did something that most war movies do not, it showed the heroes of the film doing some "not" so heroic things, such as killing a surrendering enemy combatant begging for his life or holding a few pretty German women hostage after capturing a small German town. One of the best scenes in the movie is when the brash and ruckus tank crew interrupts Wardaddy's makeshift love nest with coarse joking and savage war stories. Had 'Fury' continued down this path, this would have been a unique film. But alas, shoulda, coulda, woulda.
The most prevalent war movie stereotype in 'Fury' is the "new guy" cliche. In 'Fury,' the "new guy" is Percy Jackson himself, Logan Lerman (Norman). Countless other war movies have had their own "new guys," In 'Saving Private Ryan,' the new guy was Upham (Jeremy Davies). The "new guy" is typically used as a gateway for the audience and gives the viewers someone to relate to, as the audience is in essence the "new guy."
The "new guy" cliche typically has built-in conflict with the resident "old guys" and the lead veteran. Almost as soon as Norman arrives, Wardaddy isn't happy about it. Wardaddy's name alone should indicate why. Young Norman is from the the typing pool, has no combat experience, and has never been in a tank.
Similar to the "new guy," every war movie needs "the preacher." Admittedly, I find the conflict of war and religion to be thought provoking, but I wish war movies would mix it up a bit. Thankfully, 'Fury' makes "the preacher" character (Bible Swan played by Shia LaBeouf) semi-interesting. No one finds this sentence more shocking than I do, as I am "the opposite" of a Shia LaBeouf fan, but this was perhaps LaBeouf's best role in years. Amazingly, 'Fury' will remind people that LaBeouf can actually act. It's easy to forget whilst watching crappy 'Transformer' movies and weird sadistic films like 'Nymphomaniac.' LaBeouf's bizarre public behavior hasn't done him any favors either.
All that aside, LaBeouf shines in this film, albeit in a cliched character. Bible Swan is the tank's gunner and probably kills more people than any member of the tank crew. If this sounds familiar then you will recall that Barry Pepper (Private Jackson) was the quintessential "preacher"/sniper character in 'Saving Private Ryan,' but LaBeouf's character takes it a step further. Bible Swan may brutally kill men on the battlefield, but as soon as the fighting stops, he prays with and offers comfort to dying enemy soldiers. It's a good reminder, that even enemies can treat each other like human beings. Again, had 'Fury' focused on some of these contradictions, rather than lazily relying on stereotypes, 'Fury' could have been one of the best films of the year.
As someone who is herself "ethnic," I am not criticizing diversity in films, quite the contrary. However, I'm getting a little tired of the stereotypical "ethnic friend." Why can't Hollywood write non-stereotypical characters who just happen to be non-white? Ultimately people are people. So writers--please write the character like you would any other person. One good example is Adam Beach (Ira Hayes) in 'Flags of Our Fathers.' Unlike Gordo (Michael Pena), Beach's character is fully developed with a distinct personality and presence. Whereas Gordo is the epitome of a stereotype: a one-dimensional feisty Latin tank driver with an attitude and little dialogue, who irritates Wardaddy by occasionally speaking Spanish in the tank.
Perhaps the worst war movie stereotype is the creepy "rapey" soldier, played here by Jon Bernthal (Grady Coon-Ass). Grady is openly misogynistic and cringe worthy at times. It's never more evident than when he threatens to rape one of the young women in Wardaddy's custody. It's good for the ladies that Wardaddy is gentlemanly enough to threaten to kick Grady in the teeth. Grady reminds me of the Telly Savalas' character (A.J. Maggott) in 'The Dirty Dozen.' However, I have to give Ayer (who also wrote 'Fury) a little credit for giving Grady at least one tender moment, in which he admits that he's not a good man, but would like to be. I understand that soldiers can be rough around the edges. My father is a Vietnam combat veteran and is still a little rough around the edges, but this war movie stereotype needs some freshening up.
It's not long after this awkward scene that Wardaddy and crew are sent into harms way again. Which brings me to both the weakest and the strongest point of the film. The film essentially becomes "Saving Private Ryan...with tanks" and descends into blatant 'Saving Private Ryan' mimicry. Similar to 'Saving Private Ryan,' Wardaddy decides to "hold this ground" against an onslaught of 300 German soldiers, despite their tank being knocked off its tracks by a landmine. It ends as you would expect...exactly as 'Saving Private Ryan' ended.
Overall, it's a decent war movie, but not for the squeamish. Lastly in closing, I haven't really thought much of Pitt since I was a hormonal teenager in 1994 with a 'Legends of the Fall' poster on my wall, but I have to admit that Pitt was kinda hot in this film. He has a nice shirtless scene. Sorry, this may or may not be a reason to see this movie, but it certainly made the time pass. Ultimately, 'Fury' may not be for everyone, but it's a film that I could watch with my dad. We see two types of films together, westerns and war movies. So anytime I can spend time with him I'm going to take it.
Directed by David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, and Logan Lerman.
*** 3 stars out of 5