‘Fury’ Criticizes War Dehumanization

Photo courtesy of Sam Javanrouh, Flickr Creative Commons

It’s been a while since there has been a good fictionalized World War II picture. Filmmakers typically go for more impossibly true stories about individuals or events to make movies out of. It is much less often that a filmmaker will use the war as a backdrop for a story, instead of the war being the story itself. One such movie is David Ayer’s “Fury.” The film makes for an excellent drama with a great story, but does not exactly raise anything new for the genre.

It is the final days of the war as the Allies march through Germany. The Nazis’ surrender is inevitable, but the conflict is far from over. Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) commands the Sherman tank “Fury” as he must take it and its five-man crew on a high-risk mission behind enemy lines. At the start of the film, Fury’s gunner is killed in action and the inexperienced Private Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is called in to take his place. Throughout the story Norman makes the transition from being an unwelcome outsider to part of the ragtag family. But this is not the only transformation Norman makes.

It’s easy to find Norman to be a rather unlikable character. A lot of this is due to the cowardice and horror he displays towards combat. It’s something he has never done before and outright refuses to start. So Wardaddy has to turn a kicking and screaming Norman into a gunner that will not get him and his crew killed. This plot takes up the bulk of the film, as it becomes more about men than it is about soldiers. It’s not that Norman is unlikeable and spineless, but the audience is just inherently on Wardaddy’s side, completely unfazed and even entertained by the act of killing.

The film takes a hard look at soldiers and how the army turns thousands of ordinary men into apathetic, merciless killers. While it is not an original theme for a war movie to have, the approach it takes feels very fresh, although the payoff at the end comes off as contrived and tiresome.

A lot of this plot is helped by the film’s supporting cast. Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal and Michael Peña play the rest of Fury’s crew, each a vastly different character from the next. A particular emphasis is put on Bernthal’s character, who could easily be described as Norman’s polar opposite. In one scene in a German woman’s apartment, the comparison is distinctly apparent how this life in the military has turned him into a rude, brutish Neanderthal, when they were probably very similar people once.

The onscreen chemistry between the crew of Fury is one of its best qualities. Without even seeing it happen it feels like these principal four men have been through a lot together and emerged all the stronger for it. The bond between these characters feels even more real than in “Saving Private Ryan.” Pitt does an excellent job, as always, even though his character does feel like a less flippant rendition of his Aldo Raine from “Inglourious Basterds.”  

In addition to that, the battle scenes of the movie are technically amazing. The tank-on-tank battle is probably the most realistic it’s ever been on film and the exceptional sound mixing creates an intense, loud, unpredictable environment. The war feels brutally authentic from its emotional, claustrophobic opening to its heartbreaking conclusion.

“Fury” is a gritty, intense war drama that does an outstanding job of encapsulating the attachment between brothers-in-arms while also taking a stance on the brutality and dehumanization of war. This is very well made drama but likely will not stand out for many awards come Oscar season. Nonetheless, it is another fine addition to an increasingly great fall.