28 October 2014

Review: FURY

Having made Clerks in a cop car and an old-fashioned Schwarzenegger movie, writer-director David Ayer finds another outlet to interrogate the movies' sense of masculinity in Fury, an old fashioned macho World War II picture that substitutes Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal and (yes, even) Shia LaBeouf for a wartime ensemble that might have been led by John Wayne once upon a time.

The titular Fury is a Sherman tank operated by cynical soldiers with names like Wardaddy and Coon-Ass, trundling through the Allied assault on Germany, which in 1945 means total war. Joining the crew is new assistant driver Norman, an office clerk whose first duty is to clean his predecessor's face and brains off of his part of the tank's interior. Under Wardaddy's watchful eye, Norman inevitably becomes more inured to the hell of the closing days of the war, as they take town after town back from the fanatical Nazis.

Without having seen a whole lot of movies in which tank warfare is a major feature, I still feel confident in saying that Fury has perhaps the best tank warfare yet filmed. The battlefield manoeuvres and combat on display here is vital, exciting and often shockingly violent. The gunfire rings out loudly and glows white-hot, and sometimes even red-hot and green-hot, to where it looks a bit like something from Star Wars, but with the bleakness and brutality of a Saving Private Ryan. Likewise, the scenes inside the tank, with the platoon getting on each other's nerves or otherwise just being boisterous in a hellish, confined space, are amongst the film's best and the ensemble seems very well cast.

Brad Pitt, who has been gradually evolving into the mould of a Robert Redford figure in the last few years, essays the Wayne role rather well, with echoes of his own Inglourious Basterds performance in there for good measure. He tends to dominate the film much as Wayne would, but the work put into a rigorous pre-production ensemble boot camp pays off marvellously too. Logan Lerman is the newbie who has to toughen up in a world where absolutely everybody has to fight, even though the war has technically already been won. Jon Bernthal is brilliantly scuzzy, Michael Peña is reliably brilliant in his second driver's seat for Ayer after End Of Watch, and while the film's Bible-thumping gunner didn't completely get me over my beef (Beouf?) with a certain actor, even I have to admit he's not half bad here.

By contrast with the war scenes, the film grinds to a halt when the tanks do in the second act, in the aftermath of successfully recapturing a town from the Nazis. An extended passage with an overly romantic view of war atrocities follows, with Wardaddy and his platoon variously enjoying the spoils of war, with our heroic leader and his young charge Norman particularly enjoying the hospitality of two German women. This sequence feels like it goes on forever and while Ayer's portrayal of women has never matched his curiosity about masculinity, it's particularly poor here, serving only to underline a point that is repeatedly better made elsewhere.

Even the film's tagline makes that point better- "War Never Ends Quietly." For the context in which Ayer has chosen to examine Hollywood's representation of males, the war is already won but it's not over either. But the Allies are outgunned by Germans who are still fanatical about their cause and as Wardaddy points out, until the Nazis surrender, a whole lot of people will die for nothing. It's a hugely cynical atmosphere, but an effective setting for Ayer's purposes, particularly when he subverts audience expectations once again with a stunning punchline to the half-hour last stand and a haunting final line.

Although the contemplative subject matter doesn't always sit well with the overriding old-fashioned tone, Fury is a subversive and enthralling war picture that successfully reconstitutes that feeling you get watching Bank Holiday Monday action movies in a much darker context. Unlike George Clooney's men-on-a-mission buddy movie, The Monuments Men, this doesn't feel like it's peeking down the barrel of a hellish part of history just for show. Ayer stares right down it, and at its best, you may just feel like it genuinely will blow your head off.

Fury is now showing at cinemas and IMAX screens nationwide.
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If you've seen Fury, why not share your comments below? Does anyone think that Shia LaBeouf should have been better in this, for the lengths that he went to prepare? Maybe just try acting, dammit!

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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