Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Fury: A Sherman Tank’s Last Stand
tanks such as the one Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier commands were like portable
Alamos. During WWII, American tank crews suffered staggering losses to Germany’s
superior armored forces, but they could still do a lot of damage before their
number came up. Essentially, that was also the strategy of the fanatical German
remnants, who refused to recognize National Socialism’s imminent defeat. Instead
of a march to victory, a new post-Normandy addition to Collier’s crew will have
the mother of all fiery baptisms in David Ayer’s Fury (trailer
opens tomorrow nationwide.
years, Collier has beat the odds, somehow bringing his men safely through each
battle. Unfortunately, his luck, or at least his machine-gunner’s, has just run
out. For a replacement, he is stuck with Norman Ellison, a transfer from
clerical services, who could not possibly be anymore naïve. In contrast, the
German-speaking Collier has no illusions about the nature of war or the enemy
they face. His tank, “Fury,” is indeed aptly named, reflecting his general attitude,
particularly when it comes to the SS.
course, Ellison will take plenty of not-so good-natured ribbing from his new
brothers-in-arms: Boyd “Bible” Swan, the token fundamentalist, Trini “Gordo”
Garcia, the token Hispanic, and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis, the token sociopathic
jerkweed. When the rookie Ellison makes a mistake that leads to the death of
another crew, Fury becomes an even more tense and awkward place to be. However,
Collier is determined to make a stone cold killer out of Ellison, one way or
another. The process might even involve a fair amount of climatic heroics.
Fury’s first act is a tonal traffic
accident, designed to shock us out of our supposed “jingoism” and rub our noses
in the war crimes committed by the Greatest Generation. We see a lot of Collier
dispatching surrendered Germans, until some script editor apparently noticed
the film was making the Nazis look sympathetic. As a result, the second act is
a sort of war crimes poker game played out between Collier and the SS, in which
battlefield executions are called and raised with strafed civilians.
is a darned shame Ayer wastes so much time trying to be hip and revisionary, because
when Fury gets down to the a-man’s-gotta-do-what-a-man’s-gotta-do
action, it is pretty spectacular. The early battle scenes are certainly tense
and brutal, but they also clearly and dramatically establish the mechanics and dynamics
of armored combat. They are all well staged, but the big centerpiece showdown-conflagration
is an instant classic. (Sensitive viewers should be warned: there are graphic
scenes of limbs decapitated by all manner of projectiles and explosives.)
question, Fury features the best
tank-fighting sequences ever staged on film. Unfortunately, the further they
get from the Sherman M4, the shakier the film gets. As a case in point, an
overly long sequence in which Swan, Travis, and Garcia crash a quiet moment
Collier and Ellison are trying to have with two German women makes no sense
within the film’s dramatic context. They
are supposed to fear and revere Collier, but they are acting like knuckle-dragging
savages, just to make the audience hate them.
Brad Pitt gets down to business quite effectively and efficiently as Collier. He
is one of the few contemporary American screen actors with genuine movie star
presence, but he is still completely credible playing a grizzled hardnose. Shia
LaBeouf is also surprisingly flinty as Swan, so his reported self-mutilation
did not go to waste. As Ellison, Logan Lerman also brings more grit and
substance to the table than one might expect. Conversely, Jon Bernthal’s Travis
is all bug-eyed shtick, while Michael Peña’s Garcia has really no distinguishing
personality traits whatsoever.
There is a real disconnect between the
extraordinary armored combat scenes and Ayer’s problematically erratic screenplay.
Flirting with moral equivalency, he keeps telling us war is Hell when he is not
blowing stuff up real good. Still, Pitt and the awesome warfighting scenes are
just enough to carry the day. Recommended for fans of war movies, Fury opens wide tomorrow (10/17),
including the AMC Loews Lincoln Square in New York.
Labels: Brad Pitt, WWII Cinema