Tuesday, October 21, 2014

'Fury' Review - A Lesson in War Movie Cliches [Spoilers]

"Ideals are peaceful. History is violent."
Wardaddy [to Norman] in 'Fury.'

Directed by DAVID AYER
Starring BRAD PITT, SHIA LABEOUF, MICHAEL PENA, 
JON BERNTHAL, and LOGAN LERMAN

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.
Norman's trial by fire starts almost immediately. Norman's first task is to clean up the remains of the soldier he is replacing--not a pretty sight. Things go downhill from there, as Norman gets brutally schooled by Wardaddy. The tension between Wardaddy and Norman is one of the most compelling aspect of the film. It's also another well-known war movie stereotype. The "new guy" always attempts to retain his humanity during the first half of the film, only to transform into a killing machine during the second half of the film. It's a little unrealistic. It's kind of like the guy who takes one sword lesson and automatically becomes an expert.


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.
In addition to the 'Saving Private Ryan' ripoff,' there were a few scenes that made absolutely no sense. Not once but twice, two members of the tank crew poke their head out in the midst of enemy fire and the obvious happens. Seriously? Couldn't they have died in a more noble manner? Are you telling me that these men who have survived four years of tank fighting, don't have the wherewithal "not" to poke their head out when being fired upon?  This is one of the first thing my father always told me--when the bullets start flying "HIT THE DECK." At least one of the character's gets taken out by a sniper--that I could understand. Were it not for the final scene between Wardaddy and Norman, the ending wouldn't have been redeemed.

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.

THREE OUT OF FIVE STARS

17 comments:

  1. Didn't make it to the theater to see it (saw The Book of Life instead) but will check out on NetFlix. You're right that sticking one's head out of a tank during combat is really dumb. I would like to see LaBeouf actually act though.

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    1. Ha, he does! I was actually taken aback. He is quite good when he wants to be. 'The Book of Life' looks like it would be a fun movie to watch. It's claymation right?

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  2. Wait, I am sticking my head out... insert explosion, ;). Thank you for the review, I don't care for too many war styled films. Not because they are good or bad, just it sort of promotes the violence... I am about peace not pieces...

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    1. I totally understand, which is why I like war films that have a story to tell beyond the violence, which is what I thought Fury was going to be. It could have been, but it wasn't.

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  3. LaBeouf did a good job? I'll have to check it out. I tend to like war films for the most part.

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    1. He did. I think he's better in supporting roles, rather than the lead.

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  4. This is an insightful review MsMariah since I wrote this one off without a second thought. There's hope for the war film genre yet!

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    1. Thanks Maurice! I think this is a netflix rental more than a movie to see on the big screen.

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  5. This is an excellent, cogent review of a film I had not intended to see, but... I am tempted now.

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    1. Ha thanks Paul! It's more of a rental. I wouldn't see it in the theaters. I went to see it b/c my dad likes war movies.

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  6. Pitt playing a soldier who gets a shirtless scene? They should put THAT on the poster :) I really like him and I heard the soundtrack is good so I'm probably gonna check it out on DVD

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    1. Ha, yes. That was probably my favorite scene!

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  7. I haven't seen this yet but I totally get what you mean about the diversity thing. I'm not from the US and my race is barely represented in Hollywood and the few characters portrayed are often stereotypes. I really think that most of the films/shows only do it for the quota, just like in US corporations. That said, I'm still curious to check this out. I'm actually more curious to check out Shia's performance here.

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    1. Hi Ruth! I think you make a good point. This is a good rental. I am a bit squeamish. If you are too you may want to fast forward through a few scenes. Admittedly Shia does do a good job in this film.

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  8. It was loud and violent in the cinema... and sometimes Fury becomes too intense although cliches are everywhere, frankly saying.
    Nice review though :)

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    1. Hi, you're right about that. Cliches are everywhere, not just in war movies. I just thought that this movie was so heavily cliched. However, overall I did enjoy the film.

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