‘I’ ON CULTURE
Hollywood does not make many war movies anymore, particularly about historic wars. We have had a few recent films about Afghanistan and Iraq, but looking at people fighting is more profitable when there is a comic-book twist and a superhero. It also helps if whoever is being killed is not human. The new war drama Fury brings back the old days when Hollywood thought American men were heroes.
The film focuses on the crew of a tank (named Fury, of course) at the very end of World War II. A young soldier, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who has just finished basic training and is supposed to be a clerk, is assigned to the tank when one of its machine gunners is killed. He is, of course, “the kid,” since the stereotypes have to be followed and we must see the violence of war.
The action takes place in Germany in April 1945 (for those who are not up on dates, the war ended in early May). According to the movie, the Allies were facing the hardest of the hard-core Nazis, who were ready to fight to the very end. The officer in command of the tank, Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), tells the kid to “do as you’re told, and don’t get too close to anyone.” The crew itself is nicely diverse and stereotypical. Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LeBeouf) is a religious fanatic with more than a bit of hellfire in him. The driver is a Hispanic man named Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña), and there is also semi-psycho Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal). Most of the drama is seen through Ellison’s eyes as he faces the harsh reality of the battlefield. In a war where the enemy gives no quarter, Wardaddy pushes him to be as harsh as the Nazis he faces. The violence in the film is very tough, very gritty. In many of the movies done during World War II, the dead dropped into place. Here, every detail is shown. Blood and body parts fly around.
Writer/director David Ayer claims he made an anti-war movie. Yet the battle scenes are so strong that war still comes out glorious. The relationship between the soldiers in this restricted setting is a keynote; all of us dream of being close to others like that (although we would mostly prefer to do so safely at home). The battle scenes wind up being almost totally one-sided. In the final battle shown, the tank faces overwhelming odds and still succeeds.
We also have the obligatory sort of romance between the young man and a pretty German girl. It seems out of place and stretches the movie beyond two hours without adding anything to the main plot.
The acting is uniformly good. Pitt is good in what we should probably call the “John Wayne” role. He is tough, unrelenting, yet bits of humanity creep in. LeBeouf avoids the simplicity that he might have used to play a stereotype. His religious feelings allow him to deal with the horrors he faces, keeping him sane. Lerman is very good as the young man.
Historically, much of the movie is fiction. Most of the Germany army was already dead or captured at this point. The Allies had overwhelming force, 90 divisions, to 26 for the Germans. A huge proportion of the fighters were old men and young boys. But that would have ruined the point of the film. The United States broke through into Germany at the end of March and, joining with the Russians, took the country in six weeks. Further, the German army leadership, realizing that the war was lost, moved its best troops to face the Russians. Many Germans surrendered because they were starving and/or were out of ammunition. It is unlikely the Germans had much of an edge anywhere, yet in this movie they seem to have overwhelming force. Also, the pretty girl seen in a beautiful dress was more likely to be semi-starving and in rags by this point of the war. But all of those things would have gotten in the way of this movie.
I know that I focus too heavily on fake historical elements; it comes from teaching history all my life. And Ayer was trying to make a point about war; that part failed, but the movie still works on a very gritty level. Overall, this is a pretty decent war movie, one in which we can easily identify the good guys and can root for them with no feelings of guilt.