Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.

Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.

Sometimes film offers us a glimpse of something other. Not something other than ourselves or our lives, but something other than what it has decided to be. That glimpse can often do more harm than good, since it gets us thinking about possibilities…but we can hardly be blamed for thinking these thoughts.

For instance “What if there was a better way?”…or “What if this scene was the whole movie?”.

When we meet the crew of a tank dubbed “Fury”, they are playing possum in the charred remains of a battlefield. After their squad leader takes out the lone remaining SS soldier, Sgt. Collier (Brad Pitt) climbs back into the tank and tells them to head back to camp. In the fracas that preceded our arrival, the tank crew lost their assistant driver, so they are now down to a four-man-team.

There’s Cpl. “Gordo” Garcis (Michael Penn), the driver who takes a certain amount of pride in being an immigrant to America who didn’t back down from signing up to fight. There’s Cpl. Travis (Jon Bernthal), the loader who is the most crude and antagonistic man in a unit filled with crude and antagonistic men. Finally, there’s TEC 5 “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), the crew’s gunner and resident Christian. He is happy to go along with all of this madness as the job requires, but isn’t above praying for all their souls when the opportunity presents itself.

When the tank gets back to camp, it is handed a new assistant driver in the form of Pvt. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). One look at Ellison’s baby face and Collier knows that he is not cut out for contact – and he’s right. Ellison was drafted to soldier in an administrative capacity – specifically chosen because he can type sixty words-per-minute. Not only does he not have the first clue how to kill a man, but he is actively reluctant to do-so. Still, orders are orders, so Collier folds him into the unit.

Though they remain brutally outmatched in comparison to enemy artillery, the newly formed “Fury” unit is then pointed back towards the front to do all manner of missions. Whether it’s rescue or patrol, the team is on high-alert for any German that crosses their past since it’s the spring of 1945, and even non-soldiers have become a threat to the allied mission. This presents an even tougher test for Ellison, who has a hard enough time engaging uniformed combatants…let alone civilians.

Logan Lerman in FURY
Next year will mark the sixtieth anniversary of the end of World War II, and as crazy as this might seem – I still believe that there are stories from that horrific part of our history yet to be told. What’s more, with every passing year, and every advance in technology, it becomes more and more possible to do these incredible tales due justice. But there’s the trouble – these incredible tales need to wrap themselves around a core idea, and while it must never be forgotten, that core idea cannot always be “War is Hell”. So when Sgt. Collier utters those words quoted at the top of this review, we become hopeful…hopeful that we are about to look at who we are and measure that against who we turn into.

During the film’s second act, the story takes a wildly long break in the action for the platoon to hunker down in the German town. It’s in this moment – well away from the more taunting members of his unit – that Norman can finally take a breath and assess what he has become a part of. The moment allows us too a chance to reflect on what we would do in the same situation, and what we as citizens put our soldiers through in order to protect our “way of life”. However, before we can get too comfortable – before we can enjoy the feeling of a fresh shave and dig into some hot food – the rest of the unit piles in, and we’re given a cold, hard reminder of what war does to our basic humanity. These men are brutes, they are animals, they are blunt instruments surrounded by fine china. They are absolutely the right men for the job, but that’s because the job is so very nasty.

At first it seems out-of-place, and perhaps even cliche. However, as long as the scene seems to be, it’s also fleeting. Before we know it, the grunts have all piled out and we’ve descended back into hell. As intense as the opening and conclusion of this film are, we feel like we’ve seen versions of them before. On the other hand, “Dinner For Grunts” is a notion I’ve never seen on-film, and now wish I had more of. Few things seem to underline how much humanity is beaten out of our soldiers than seeing them gathered at a proper dining table.

Unfortunately, that moment is less the rule of FURY and more the exception. The rule of FURY is full of now-common traits like the scripture-spouting soldier, or the arguments about how soldiers are there to do a job, not do “the right thing”. It gives us no characters we haven’t met in seventeen other movies, nor enough focus on the mission that the characters don’t matter (oddly, both are permissible in great war films). As a consequence, we spend most of the first and third act wanting Fury to remain engaged in a firefight…and for every soldier to just keep their damned mouths shut.

This is a shame – not only because men like the unit depicted in FURY deserve a better portrayal on-screen, but also because the tank battles in this film are so damned intense. The scenes shake us to the bone and leave us with the firm belief that the unit cannot possibly survive another one. They show the true brutality and danger we ask of our soldiers to protect the values we hold dear; the violence they unleash to uphold our peace. It’s deeply affecting, and more of it could have turned this movie into something very special.

Matineescore: ★ ★ 1/2 out of ★ ★ ★ ★
What did you think? Please leave comments with your thoughts and reactions on FURY.