Fury takes the glitz out of the blitzkrieg
In April 1945, the last month of World War II in the European Theatre, the Nazis make a last-ditch effort to uphold their resistance against the Allied troops marching into Germany. As a fictional account, Fury is a gritty and visceral depiction of the horrors of war that minimizes the glamour and overt chauvinism that most war movies tend to amplify. At least, it minimizes at much as it can — come on, Brad Pitt stars as the film’s heroic Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier. Star power aside, Fury fearlessly displays the damage of the battlefield as being more tragic than it is heroic. Writer and director David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch) is a master of the craft of filmmaking. He possesses and builds upon the power of making the audience feel the essence of a story. In this case, the essence lies in the internal devastation that the soldiers feel in every moment of the war, although they must quash their emotions in order to continue doing their job.
The film has a bevy of strong actors who play distinct characters inevitably torn down to shreds of who they once were. Wardaddy is the head of his regiment, and serves as the commander of his army tank, Fury. He’s strong-headed and tough, always determined to move onto the next mission. He commandeers a five-man crew that’s been with him since their North Africa Campaign: Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), a gunner who finds peace in Christianity; Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña) a likable tank driver with a somewhat cheerful personality; and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), a loader with a primal anger constantly lurking and ready to snap.
The crew has a synergistic bond that operates to a furiously mechanical rhythm. However, the crew is thrown off beat when they lose their second tank driver, and newcomer Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is thrown into the regiment to take his place. Norman is the baby-faced, doe-eyed reluctant soldier who was originally a clerk trained to type 60 words a minute, not operate a 30-ton army tank. His empathy and reluctance to kill Nazis seriously irritate Wardaddy and the rest of the group, as they know that this is a serious impediment to their mission. They heckle him and mentally toss him into the trenches in order to prepare Norman for the ugly horror to come.
There’s a stubborn mentality that develops amongst these soldiers that can only come from the devastation of war. The soldiers are gritty: covered in dirt with desperate fatigue dragging onto their faces. It’s the mask they bear to face the war and, therefore, the only mask they feel they can handle in their lives anymore. It’s their grasp of manliness. There’s a scene in which Wardaddy and Norman intrude upon the home of two German women, and Wardaddy finally gets to have a clean shave. He dons off his shirt for a seemingly objectifying purpose, as the camera seems to take its time staying on his body, in all of Brad Pitt’s age-defying muscly glory. However, in the turn of a frame, the scars of war are revealed in the form of burn scars covering his back.
The war is forever embedded in their lives, superficially hidden under thinly sheathed surfaces. But it isn’t a
truth that the rest of the soldiers have fully processed yet. Again, they identify with the trauma of war with more apparent evidence, like the mask of war that they don on their faces. When Wardaddy puts on a crisply clean shirt and now has a freshly washed face, he can be human again. He isn’t Wardaddy in this moment; he’s back to Don Collier. He eats lunch peacefully with his German hosts and with Norman — his respite from the everyday horror that clings to him. His crew bursts in on their lunch, insulted that Wardaddy didn’t invite them, but probably more so that his first real re-entrance into civility is with the enemy. They taunt him and the German women mercilessly and, for the first time, Wardaddy has no control over his soldiers because he’s in the bubble of civility and they’re still trapped in the realm of war. The scene goes to show that a civilian who hasn’t shared their journey can never fully understand the complexity of pain and horror from the battlefield.
It’s been nearly 70 years since World War II has ended and our memories of it have expanded into many branches of legacy. Fury climbs onto the branch that’s serves as the most honest and, hence, the most brutal. It isn’t so much a war film as it is a horror film, where people are so far displaced from their usual lives and are forced to deal with the hopelessness of such displacement. But through the desolation, the film invokes honor and humanity that can’t be found anywhere else.