Arts Review, Movies
David Ayer, director & scriptwriter
Starring: Brad Pitt (Sgt. “Wardaddy” Collier), Shia LaBeouf (Boyd “Bible” Swan), Logan Lerman (Norman “Cobb” Ellison), Michael Pena (“Gordo” Garcia), Jon Bernthal (“Coon-Ass” Travis), Jason Isaacs (Cpt. Waggoner), Scott Eastwood (Sgt. Miles)
It’s a surprise to see a tough Second World War battlefield film like Fury pop up in mainstream cinemas, starring Brad Pitt of all people. Zoomers will fondly recall a time when movie theatres regularly showed big budget World War Two films but that era has long since passed. (Of course, Holocaust movies are still popular but that’s a different kind of cinema, not involving men in battlefields). Much like the Western, another genre that featured tough guys handling life and death situations with style and determination, the combat movie has been on life support for decades, often revived but rarely successful.
Enter writer-director David Ayer, who has worked on the gritty cop films End of Watch and Training Day. Ayer shows a real facility with the old macho genres. Here he has made a combat film that expresses the harsh realities of warfare while still creating memorable characters and situations. Fury is a remorseless journey through the darkness and violence that took place on battlefields throughout World War Two but it is also geared to register with mainstream audiences.
Ayer has clearly studied Saving Private Ryan and Inglourious Basterds, two of the few WW2 films that hit big with the public in recent times, and has appropriated key elements from both. The angriest of Quentin Tarantino’s “basterds” was Brad Pitt, who seemed to spit nails as Lieutenant Aldo Raine, an officer who wanted to grab as many Nazi scalps as possible. In Fury, that performance is dialed down to such an extent that one actually feels sympathy for the old soldier he is portraying. Pitt’s Sgt. “Wardaddy” Collier is a complex character, playing at being a tough guy. You can see the sadness in Pitt’s eyes and realise that his macho determination is a pose he’s created to keep his soldiers in line.
From Saving Private Ryan, Ayer has taken his cue from the bravura opening 20 minutes of Spielberg’s film, when the killing is at its fiercest. Fury is full of blood and mud and gore. It’s appropriate that “Wardaddy” and his men are in a Sherman tank facing death throughout the film. It was General Sherman who said “War is Hell” as that’s definitely the theme of this relentless film.
Fury isn’t a masterpiece. Ayer allows too much romanticism to seep in to make this a cold-blooded documentary portrayal of warfare. But he comes awfully close. Kudos to him and to Pitt, who gives an astonishing performance as Ayer’s lead.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical 96.3 FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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