Expert film discussion from completely unqualified people


November 6, 2014

Drew reviews Fury. 

Sigh… Let’s just rip this Band-Aid right off. This is another pointless list on the internet. It’s probably the 100,000th list you’ve seen on your feed today. I’m sorry about that, really, I am. I just… I wanted to write something about this movie but I couldn’t come up with a better theme than “I really liked it for some reasons.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just wanted to aim higher, you know? We’ve got so many damn lists. We’re up to our necks in lists. I wanted to be different, man! I wanted to rise above! But the truth is I’m just not that good. I’m just a washed-up amateur blogger writing another list for another blog on the internet… and you know what? This is all your fault. You just keep on clicking these fucking things! As long as you keep clicking on “57 Things from the 90’s That Will Make You Remember the 90’s,” the internet will keep making more of them. You’re sitting on a bench at the duck pond throwing out bread-crumbs and complaining that the ducks won’t leave you alone. The internet loves clicks as much as ducks love bread, and if I know one thing about ducks, it’s that those assholes love them some fucking bread

Anyway, Fury is a really good movie. Go see it. 

If I’m being honest, I wasn’t even looking forward to seeing this film. I saw the previews, and like a lot of people, I was sure it would be too distracting to see Brad Pitt in a World War II movie that wasn’t Inglorious Bastards. I thought I’d be whispering, “…and I want my scalps” to myself the entire time. But when the movie was released it started getting a lot of positive reviews. On top of that my local movie theater does six-dollar movies on Tuesday and sometimes that’s enough. My buddy Dan and I decided to go see this, and I’m really glad we did. Allow me to list the reasons why:

1) Writer/Director David Ayer Tells a Compelling and Complex Story

After reading a synopsis, it’s easy to believe Fury is going to be yet another iteration of the “Battle of Thermopylae” trope. You know what I mean: A small band of war-hardened soldiers has to fight against insurmountable odds to hold off the enemy. I loved 300 as much as the next guy, and not just because I have a crush on Gerard Butler (is he dreamy or what?). While Fury absolutely falls into this category, it’s also so much more than that.  

At its heart, Fury is actually a story about four soldiers mourning the death of one of their crewmates and the young man who’s forced to try to fill the void a dead man left behind. The opening scenes of the film show Fury’s crew directly after the loss of one of their own. Their leader, Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt), is trying to rally his men and get their broken-down tank moving again, but it’s clear that he’s suffering as much as his crew. He lashes out at them in frustration and the sense of loss is palpable for the audience. The tensions in the group continue to mount when a replacement is thrust upon them and it’s revealed that not only is he inexperienced, but he’s unwilling or unable to fight the enemy. Left without any choice but to soldier on (no pun intended) these men have to find a way to come together and work as a team if they want to survive. 

This personal conflict is actually the driving force behind the plot of Fury and not, as you might have expected, the fact that there’s a bunch of Nazis around that need killing. On the surface it might seem like more fun to just make a movie about Nazi killing, but I think we can all agree that telling a nuanced, character-driven story is a much more difficult task. David Ayer deftly writes these complex characters and also manages to expertly juggle several tricky themes, including coping with the hardships of war, the difficulty of taking a human life, whether or not religion has a place on the battle field, and many others. This movie covers a lot of emotional ground, and the most amazing part is that it manages to do this in the mostly within confined space inside Fury itself. But I’ll talk more about that later. What a movie needs, first and foremost, is a good story. Fury delivers. 

2) The Acting is Excellent  

When the majority of a film is going to take place inside a tank and use a lot of close-up shots, you’re betting a lot on the ability of your actors to deliver subtle and compelling performances. During intimate moments like that, it’s easy for an actor to fail to deliver the necessary emotion and for their performance to fall flat. It is equally easy to be over-the-top and take the audience out of the moment because the performance feels ridiculous and unbelievable. Fury’s cast walks this tightrope line with the kind of grace you rarely see in an ensemble cast. Without a single line of dialogue offered as explanation, the audience knows that Brad Pitt’s character is overwhelmed by his leadership role and is doing his best to keep himself together for his crew. Shia LeBouf plays the overtly-religious Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan, who feels frustrated being surrounded by men who don’t seem to share his faith, but is fighting to keep believing anyway. Jon Bernthal is Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis and plays the most detestable member of the group, but somehow manages to make us sympathize with his character while simultaneously hating him. Michael Peña gives probably the weakest performance of the group, but that’s more a testament to the strength of the other performances than a criticism. Peña plays Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia, the man most desperately trying to hold onto a thin veneer of nonchalance in the face of the horrors around him. Gordo provides some of the only comic-relief in the film (not that there’s much of it to go around) which makes the audience feel it even more when his character finally loses his grip for a moment and breaks down crying. 

But for as good as all of those performances were, the biggest surprise to me was the award-worthy work turned in by the young Logan Lerman. Lerman plays Norman Ellison, the young army secretary forced to ride with the crew of Fury despite having no experience on the battlefield, let alone operating the tank. Ellison is forced right to the front lines in a literal trial by fire and finds himself unable to take the enemy’s lives. The rest of the crew, already resenting him because he’s supposed to replace their fallen friend, resent him even more because they think his inability to fight will cost them all their lives. It’s clear to the audience that Ellison needs to “nut up or shut up,” but the really beautiful part about Lerman’s performance is that part of us wants him to hold onto his innocence. It would have been really easy for this character to be a simpering and pathetic weakling who we detest for his inability to fight, but Ellison is strong in his resolution not to kill, and even though we understand the futility of such beliefs on the battlefield, we respect his choice and find ourselves rooting for him. 

Fury is chock-full of quality performances, and I’ll be surprised if we don’t see some of these names show up come award-season. 

3) Setting and Atmosphere are (Mostly) Used to Enhance the Story

When setting is done right, it can almost act as a character in the way it affects the story. In the recent horror episodes of our podcast, we discussed how the Overlook Hotel acts as one of the primary characters in The Shining. Kubrick does an excellent job making the presence of the hotel felt in each scene, and if it weren’t for the incredible job done by Jack Nicholson, the setting would have been by far the scariest part of the whole movie. While I won’t argue that Fury is as successful as The Shining in this regard, I will say that it does a pretty damn good job. 

A vast majority of the film takes place with the characters either inside the tank or riding on top of it. The inside is lovingly decorated and it’s clear to us that this place acts as the soldiers' home. Inside, everyone has a job and a station. Everything has its place and the characters are able to find a sort of tenuous harmony. “Best job I ever had,” is a line we see repeated in the trailer, and you can almost believe it. Once the character’s leave Fury behind, however, things quickly go south. There are two very tense non-battle scenes in the film which I won’t describe in detail to avoid spoilers, but both take place when the characters have left the emotional and physical safety provided by Fury. This is a subtle thing that I didn't notice right away, but it’s used to great effect throughout the film. 

If I had any critique to offer, I would say that the atmosphere present outside of Fury feels incredibly ham-fisted when compared to all of the other subtlety present in this film. I’m used to War Movies using filters to make everything seem grey and devoid of color, but Fury does this to the point where it’s almost distracting. The war-torn German countryside seems to be constantly billowing smoke from somewhere off-screen, and every character’s face is constantly smudged with dirt. Everything is so desolate it reminded me of the post-apocalyptic film The Road, which is easily one of the most depressing films I’ve ever watched. I understand that we’re not watching a Care Bear movie, but I would have preferred a little more restraint. 

4) Fury Finds the Right Balance Between Action and Drama

I’ve spent so much time talking about character drama, acting and atmosphere that you might be starting to think there’s no action in this film, and that’s just not true. There are actually quite a few really great battle scenes in this movie, and the presences of all the well-executed character drama only give these battles more emotional weight for the audience. 

I love action movies as much as the next guy, but unless I’m first made to care about the people who are in the middle of the action, it’s easy to become bored. This might sound crazy to some people, but I actually fell asleep in the theater watching the first Transformers movie. Sure, the first few scenes of giant robots fighting each other were pretty cool, but after a while it just got boring. I won’t go into too much detail here because Transformers has been beaten to death all over the internet, but for me it’s the textbook example of how boring action can be when you don’t care about the characters. 
Once again, Fury manages to walk the tightrope and uses its action scenes not just to balance out the drama but also to drive the drama forward. 

I really can’t recommend Fury enough. If it’s still playing in a theater near you it’s worth spending the money to go see it. If you went to see it, let us know what you think in the comments or you can just bitch about how stupid the list format is. This is a safe place for that. 


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