Hell hath no FURY like… Earth. This surprisingly good war film doesn’t pull any punches. In fact, it woofs you hard right in the gut and knocks the wind out of you. I didn’t expect FURY to be a contained movie. And I’m not talking about the confined setting of a tank. I use “contained” referring to its story, which takes place over just one day.
I also didn’t expect the more philosophical elements. As far as tone/vibe goes, FURY is a perfect mixture of SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and (the criminally under-rated & superior to SPR) the THIN RED LINE. That’s saying a lot. You wouldn’t necessarily think (relatively new) director DAVID AYER would be compared to the legendary STEVEN SPIELBERG & TERRENCE MALLICK.
We meet our crew on the desolate battlefield. The camera slowly skulks across smoking carcasses of fallen tanks, eventually following a German soldier on horseback. Our hero reveals himself, leaping from the wreckage and attacking the German. A swift and violent takedown reveals a knife-wielding dirt-covered BRAD PITT.
It’s a memorable, if gruesome, introduction. The results of war demonstrated in FURY are relentless and unflinching. That’s not to say the film is entirely bleak. In fact, at the end of this scene, Pitt unsaddles the white horse and lets it free. This poetic moment is reflected beautifully in the final scene. Interpreting this later moment will influence how you experience FURY.
We meet the rest of the crew as Pitt descends into the tank. MICHAEL PENA, who previously worked with AYER in the hidden gem END OF WATCH. Pena is introduced holding the hand of his fallen brother-at-arms. The soldier is clearly dead. But Pena doesn’t let go – literally and metaphorically.
This is the world of FURY. It’s real. It’s gory. It’s depressing. And it’s scary as Hell. Pena co-stars alongside JON BERNTHAL and SHIA LeBEOUF comprising the rest of the tank crew.
Bernthal may be most recognized from THE WALKING DEAD (as the memorable SHANE). His character in FURY is almost cromagnon. While his portrayal may verge towards characture, I feel like Bernthal includes some humanity in a few quiet moments. FURY goes to show how war dehumanizes a soldier. War produces blood-thirsty savage brutes. No doubt. Bernthal is that member of the crew – the man who lost his mind.
LeBeouf delivers one of his best performances on screen. Most of the time his sad eyes are full of tears, ready to burst. He portrays a religious character battling the demons of his own actions. He seeks purpose in the madness of war. They are survivors, and it must be for a reason – it must be God’s calling. I feel like LeBeouf avoids cliche, and makes this character as nuanced as it can be with little dialogue.
Pitt portrays the most complex character of the crew. He’s the leader, who’s sworn to protect his squad. No matter what. Irony soaks the opening scene as he leads his crew back to base, with their dead friend / fellow soldier dead inside the tank. Once Pitt gets a moment alone at base, it seems like he’s about to have a mental breakdown. He controls the surge. He doesn’t expel the guilt or rage or fear or whatever it is. He takes a moment, and we get to interpret what spurs it.
It’s not long before we meet our new recruit, LOGAN LERMAN. He is to replace the killed crewmate. At first the group is reluctant to get to know him. Lerman has to earn his spot, and their respect. But it’s also clear they don’t want to meet a new friend only to lose him in battle and suffer another heartbreak. Lerman is quite good as the reluctant hero. His character has the largest arc of the film. This young actor has quite the promising career. He really caught my attention with his starring role in the under-rated PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. Let’s say a war film like FURY is a drastic departure from that quiet drama.
Let’s see what the mission entails… And examine the darkest corners of war…
Pitt has hard lessons to teach Lerman. He needs to strip Lerman of his humanity. These German soldiers should not be treated equally. They are sub-human. They are Nazis. Even if they surrender, they must be killed. It’s an intense moment as we watch Lerman’s humanity get stolen. It isn’t until a later scene that we see how effective this lesson was. Lerman battles his conscience as long as he can, but he soon understands he must kill to survive. And more importantly he must kill to protect his fellow soldiers.
The battle sequences in FURY are quite impressive. I think it has to do with how refreshing they are. Cinema has seen its fare share of battle sequences. We’ve seen infantries storm bunker after bunker, or shoot their way through jungles before. But we haven’t seen too many tank battles. There is an excellent set-piece where our crew’s tank must battle a much more powerful German tank in an open field.
Somewhere near the middle of the movie, we take a detour into a city. Our soldiers get some downtime. They drink. And eat. Read a book. Or find a girl that will sleep with them (for a chocolate bar, as Pena jests). Our crew stays in the city, while Pitt and Lerman head for a house. They examine it and find two women inside. It’s inside these four walls that the men can disappear. They can pretend the war is on pause. They can feel civilized for an hour or two.
What could have been a boring chapter is brimming with tension under the surface. At this point, we still aren’t sure how savage Pitt’s character is. Will he force the women to have sex? Will he kill them for pleasure? It seems like he simply just wants to have lunch and get cleaned up.
Pitt can speak German so he relieves their fears. He has brought eggs for lunch. He just wants to clean up, shave, eat, and escape from the war. Simple. He tells Lerman if he doesn’t take the young woman to the bedroom he will. When the older woman objects, Pitt says “They are young,” basically suggesting let them live. Let them do what the young do. Even in the midst of war.
The respite doesn’t last long. The crew finds them. Bernthal especially is incredibly terrifying. Lunch smells good. But it’s not for them. They must sit and watch their two friends enjoy food with two women, while they get nothing. It’s like Pitt has betrayed his friends, showing favour to this new recruit he’s only known for mere hours. There is so much fear pulsating through this sequence. It’s so intense. I don’t want to ruin the outcome here, but I will say the conclusion was rather emotional.
Before too long, the crew is forced back into action. They return to war, where their tank soon breaks down on a long stretch of country road. Lerman is sent out to stand watch. Eventually he sees oncoming German troops. Hundreds of them. He races back to warn his crew. They must decide whether or not to hold the road or retreat. 5 vs 300 odds are not in their favour.
The final action sequence lasts into the night. It is one of the most mezmerizing and bleak depictions of war I have ever seen. It’s the idea that these soldiers know death is coming. They know they will die. But they will fight until they do. They will try and hold this cross-roads as long as possible.
FURY never lets up on realism. Every second is focused on the grim reality of war. There is no hope. There is only madness. There are no right decisions. There are no right actions. There is only wrong. Somewhere in all of this confusion, the soldier must somehow rationalize the irrational. They must somehow confront their own mortality and blaze past it. They must step outside themselves. They must lose themselves.
The movie is quite depressing when you think of how these soldiers transform from something innocent into something so horrific. The biggest scare is what man is capable of. It seems like anyone can be turned into a monster. Especially, when you consider Lerman was a mere desk clerk at the beginning of this day. However, there is a shard of light amongst all that darkness. By the end of the movie, there is hope.
I love how that white horse returns for the end – the very one Pitt freed in the opening sequence. It’s open to interpretation, but I assume it ties together with humanity and freedom. We aren’t meant to be shackled or harnessed, any more than a horse is. The horse is not meant to be man’s beast of burden. Man is not meant to be a tool for war. Man is meant to be free. Free to roam the land. Land unmarked by territory.
FURY is one of the better war films to hit the screen. It is dark and depressing. It is not propaganda meant to glamourize heroic deeds. FURY is a dark examination of the soldier’s psyche like APOCALYPSE NOW. The violence is shocking. The soldier’s attitudes and actions are shocking. These guys aren’t cool. Some of them are outright scary. These men seem just as savage as any propaganda would say the enemy is. War is the culprit. All who participate lose themselves. When the bombs stop, and the war stops, what becomes of the man? How does he find himself again?
By the end, I’m reminded of the quote: “All sound and fury signifying nothing.” I believe this is meant to reflect on our mortal coil. For me, this movie seems to be based on that quote. Normal everyday life (say of a desk clerk) signifies nothing. But so does any job. No matter how heroic, or important. At the end of the day, from a nihilistic point of view, even the President’s life is all pomp and circumstance, glitz and glamour, full of nothing. He dies, like we all do. Just like these soldiers. No matter how honourable their sacrifices are, they aren’t around to see the changes they made.
It’s a deep philosophical debate meant for genius scholars. What FURY does so well is explain this sort of philosophy in a visual medium – where it’s easier to understand the hopelessness, without disregarding hope. Should the viewer try and understand their own feelings while watching FURY they could come out of the movie a different person.
Don’t go into FURY expecting an action movie. If you want cool war scenes you will be disappointed. This is drama, not action. Go in expecting war. Go in expecting realism. Don’t go in to escape. Go in to understand and experience a fraction of what war must really be like.
FURY is important. It is worth watching. But it will be hard to shake loose. FURY could scar you. But whenever it slices you, whenever it challenges you, it’s with purpose – much like Pitt’s character and his tough lessons. Whereas most good movies are considered effective, I’d argue FURY is affective.
What did you think?
There were several great performance here. Which was your favourite?
What did you think about the lunchtime detour?
Was FURY too depressing?
What did you think of the directing?
How did you feel by the end of the movie?
Where does FURY rank with other war movies?