Review: Fury (dir. by David Ayer)


Fury

“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.”

1998 saw the release of Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

Prior to this most films depicted World War II as a noble endeavor that needed to be done to help rid the world of Hitler and the horror he was inflicting upon Europe (beyond if given the chance). It gave birth to the “Greatest Generation” that people still look up to even to this day. These were young men who volunteered for a conflict that would change history and for the millions involved. Yet, World War II films were always cut and dried. It was always the good guys (American, British, Canadian, etc…) fighting against the nameless and efficient Nazi war machine.

In time, so many of these films followed the same formula that character stereotypes came about. We always had the cynical, older veteran who becomes a sort of father figure to a hodge-podge group of young, untested soldiers. What these films also had in common was the fact that they remain bloodless despite the nature of the story being told. Some filmmakers would try to buck this time-tested formula (Sam Fuller being the most prominent), but it would take 1998’s Saving Private Ryan to set a shift in how we saw World War II.

Spielberg lifted the rose-colored glasses from the audience and dared to show that while noble, World War II was still war and it still had the horror and brutality that all wars have. 2014’s Fury by David Ayer would continue this exploration of the last “Good War” in it’s most gritty and blood-soaked detail.

The film shows the last gasp of the German war machine as Hitler gives one of his final orders for the German people to repel the invading Allies. It was to be a scorched earth defense. Whether by choice or forced into this desperate tactic, every man, woman and child was to take up arms to their last breath to defend the Fatherland. It’s in this nightmare scenario that we find the veteran Sherman tank crew led by Don “Wardaddy” Collier trying to survive these final days til war’s end. Their home for the last two and a half years since North Africa has been a modified Sherman tank they call Fury. It’s a crew that’s been battle tested from the sands of North Africa, the maze-like hedgerows of France’s bocage and now the countryside of Germany itself.

We can see right from the start that this crew has been through hell and back many times and already resigned to going through hell many more times before they can eveb think of getting back home. It’s a crew that’s already lost one of it’s own minutes into the film. Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) looms over his crew like a weary father figure. This ragtag group consists of Bible (Shia LaBeouf) as the born-again Christian who sees their survival battle after battle as a sign that God’s grace is upon Fury and her crew. Then we have Gordo (Michael Peña) who has been so traumatized by the war and what he has had to do to survive that he has numbed himself from these memories by being in a constant state of drunkenness. Lastly, we have the tank’s loader Grady (Jon Bernthal) whose misanthropic attitude comes as a crude and brutish counterpoint to Bible’s religious fervor. Into this misanthropic soup of a crew comes in the replacement to their recently killed comrade.

Logan Lerman’s character, the young and naive clerk typist Norman Ellison, becomes the audience’s eyes in the brutal world of Fury and her crew. We’re meant to see the war’s brutality and horror not through the jaded and cynical eyes of Wardaddy and his men, but through a young man who has never killed an enemy or even fired a weapon in anger. Norman becomes the surrogate through which we determine and decide whether there is such a thing a nobility and honor in war.

Honor and nobility have always been used by those always willing to go to war to convince the young and impressionable to follow them into the breach. Fury takes these two words and what they represent and muddies them through the muck and gore left behind with each passing battle and tries to see if they remain unchanged on the other side. Norman is a literal babe in the woods as he must adapt or die in a war nearing it’s end but also becoming even more deadly and dangerous than ever. His very naivete quickly becomes a hindrance and a real danger to Wardaddy and his crew. He’s not meant for this world but has had it thrust upon him.

The film treats Norman’s humanity as a liability in a war that strips it from everyone given enough time. We see Wardaddy attempt to speed up the process during a tense sequence where Norman’s being forced to shoot a German prisoner. It’s a sequence of events that’s both unnerving and disturbing as we see the veteran soldiers encircling Norman and Wardaddy cheering or looking on with indifference in their eyes. They’ve all been in something similar and one can only imagine what they had to do to make it this far.

Fury straddles a fine line between showing and explaining it’s themes to the audience. It’s to David Ayer’s skill as a writer that the film’s able to use some finely choreographed scenes both violent and peaceful to make a point about war’s effect on it’s participants both physically and mentally. Whether it’s through several well-choreographed battle scenes to a sequence of tense and quiet serenity in the apartment of two German women that bring back the plantation segment from Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Redux, the film does a great job in showing how even when stripped down close to the bone, Wardaddy and his veteran crew still has semblance of humanity and the honor and nobility they all began the war with.

As a war film, Fury brings a type of combat to the bigscreen that has rarely been explored and never in such a realistic fashion as we watch tank warfare at it’s most tactical and most horrific. Ayer doesn’t fall for the jump cut style that many filmmakers nowadays sees as a way to convey the chaos of battle. Ayer and cinematographer Roman Vasnayov have planned every sequence to allow the audience to keep track of the two opposing sides and their place in the battle’s geography. And just like Spielberg’s own Saving Private Ryan, Fury shows the very ugly and bloody side of World War II. There’s a lot of bodies being blown apart and torn to chunks of meat yet they never seem to come off as gratuitous. Every bloody moment makes a point on the horrors of war and the level of inhumanity that another man inflicts on another man.

If there’s something that Fury does lag behind on it would be some of the narrative choices dealing with Norman’s character. The film takes place literally over a day’s time and the quick change in Norman’s mentality about the war seem very sudden and abrupt. While this day in the life of Fury and her crew worked well in Ayer’s past films (both as writer or director) here it puts Ayer stuck in a corner that made it difficult to fully justify Norman’s sudden change of heart from babe in the woods to hardened Nazi-killer. We can see throughout the film that the war is affecting him in ways that could lead up to this change, but to have it happen in just under a day really stretches it’s believability to the breaking point.

Yet, despite this the film is able to stay on course and recover from this misstep on the strength of Ayer’s direction and the performances of the ensemble cast. Brad Pitt has been the focus of the media campaign leading up to the release of Fury, but every actor who comprises the crew of Fury leave their own mark in the film. Shia Labeouf has had a tough past year both professionally and personally, but one has to admit that performances like the one he had in Fury is a reminder that he’s a damn fine good actor. Whether this film has become the path to his redemption in the eyes of the public is irrelevant. One doesn’t need to like the man to respect the talent he’s able to put up on the screen.

Awards season is in full swing as Fall 2014 arrives and Fury makes it’s case known that genre films (and make no mistake this is a genre film) can more than hold it’s own with the more dramatic life-exploring films that critics tend to put on the pedestal as examples of great filmmaking. While Fury is not perfect it is a very good film full of great performances that just misses being great.

 

Trailer: Fury (International)


Fury-2014-Movie-Banner-Poster

I must admit that World War II films are a favorite of mine. Even bad ones I tend to enjoy. Whether it’s alternate fantasy fares like Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds or something that combines historical accuracy with dramatic license like Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, the World War II genre always manage to hit straight and true to my film wheelhouse.

This October there looks to be another World War II film that seems almost tailor-fit for me. I’m talking about David Ayer’s follow-up to his underappreciated film End of Watch. This follow-up is Fury and tells the story of an American tank crew in the waning days of World War II in Europe. Just from the two trailer released I already know that I’m seeing this. Ayer looks to be exploring the bond of a tank crew that has seen war from the deserts of Africa and now to the urban and forested landscapes of Germany.

The film is already getting major buzz as a major contender for the upcoming awards season and I, for one, hope that it’s a well-deserved buzz. Even with Shia LaBeouf being part of the cast is not dampening my excitement for this film. Even if it doesn’t live up to the hype I know that I’ll probably still end up enjoying it.

This trailer looks to be selling the utter brutality and carnage of World War II’s final days in Europe when German forces were literally fighting for their homeland and that makes for a desperate enemy (who still had weapons and soldiers that were still hands down better than what the Allies had one-on-one).

On a side note, I like the fact that the tracers in the film actually look like tracers which means they look like freakin’ laser blasts. That’s how tracers behave.

Fury is set to hit theaters on October 17, 2014 in the United States and October 22, 2014 internationally.

Trailer: Sabotage (Red Band)


Sabotage

Since Arnold Schwarzenneger left the California governor’s office and politics he’s gone back to doing what he was good at (or at least good at during the 80’s and 90’s). His first couple of films since getting back in front of the camera has been average at best (though I must say that Last Stand was pretty fun).

Now, we have him back in another film, but this time around one that’s a very hard, gritty R-rating that he hasn’t done since ever. He’s always had rated-R films, but they had a certain fun tone to them. With David Ayer’s Sabotage it looks like Schwarzenneger is trying to flex his hardcore bones. It’s definitely a surprise to hear him curse like a sailor during the red band trailer.

Sabotage is set for a March 28, 2014, release date.

Trailer: Elysium (2nd Official)


Elysium

I know it’s been done and written for what seems like hundreds of times that Neill Blomkamp was given the chance to direct a planned live-action film adaptation of the highly popular video game franchise Halo. Seeing how his directorial full-feature debut with District 9 proved that Peter Jackson was correct in trying to give the mega-budgeted project to the young South African, but also set Blomkamp as filmmaker who had given himself that rare commodity in Hollywood: the ability to pick and choose his next projects.

He could easily have taken the money and accolades from that first film and taken the first major action project sent his way, but Blomkamp took that rare commodity and decided to do another sci-fi film that combined not just his flair for action and gritty sci-fi visuals, but what looks to be his storytelling style of using current sociological problems (immigration, class divide, etc…for his latest film) as themes for his film.

Elysium arrives with a new trailer from TriStar Pictures and it’s parent company Sony Pictures. The first trailer gave a taste of the ideas that drive the film’s plot. This second (and much longer trailer) gives us a much more detailed look into the film’s three main characters played by Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley. It also gives us a longer look at the two contrasting art designs for society on Earth and that on Elysium.

Oh, did I also mention that the trailer almost makes it seem that it could be a trailer-run for any future Mass Effect live-action film. I saw more than one instance of what could be the use of “biotics” in the trailer by Sharlto Copley’s Kruger character.

Elysium is set to arrive in theaters on August 9, 2013 in both regular and IMAX screens.

Trailer: Elysium (Official)


Elysium

It’s not often that a filmmaker makes such a major splash in the industry with their initial full-length film becoming not just a commercial success but one which gained widespread critical-acclaim. South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp is one such filmmaker. Initially tapped by Peter Jackson to direct the planned HALO film adaptation Blomkamp ended up doing District 9 (based off of his own short film Alive in Joburg).

The film became the sensation of San Diego Comic-Con 2009 which raised the hype for it’s inevitable release a month later. It’s now been 4 years since District 9 and we finally get a chance to see the first official trailer (a 10-minute film reel was shown to invited industry and press which showed a bit more of what the film will be about) for Blomkamp’s much awaited follow-up to his hit first film.

Elysium looks to continue Blomkamp’s attempt to bring social awareness to the scifi genre and do so with a mixture of real-world gritty realism and scifi fantasy. just looking at the trailer the space station Elysium where all the rich and privilege live in a paradise-setting look like an amalgam of the HALO ringworlds and the Citadel Station from Mass Effect.

It’s still months away, but just this teaser of a trailer has just raised Elysium to the top of my list for most awaited films of 2013. If it’s as good or better than District 9 then Blomkamp will cement himself as one of his generation’s best instead of a flash in the pan like so many of his contemporaries.

Elysium is set for a wide release date of August 9, 2013.