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Thursday, May 14, 2015

Movie Review - Fury

Fury is one of the most profound films I have seen in a very long time. In my opinion, it should have been honored with at least one Oscar nomination this year, but sadly, it was overlooked by the Academy.

Written and directed by David Ayer (of Training Day fame), Fury is a bonafide faith-based film due to its cleverly placed scripture references as well as its timeless theme of sin and redemption. Set during WWII, the movie marvelously displays the horrors of war beyond the typical clichés of bloodshed, torture, and fierce battle. The viewer gets plenty of that to last a lifetime, but there is something else the film delivers: a man of faith who callously commits the most gruesome acts, and with the same bravado, makes the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the innocence of another. This is very rare to see in a God-glorifying film. Unlike the saccharine-sweet or on-the-nose Christian movies that have become standard for the faith-based audience, Fury delivers a message of true, raw faith in the almighty God. Jesus isn’t emphasized, but nevertheless, the power of believing is exalted superbly. As my husband said upon returning from the theater, “They got it right.” Mr. Ayer and his team should be very proud of this accomplishment.

The star is Brad Pitt, whose performance as Sgt. Don "Wardaddy" Collier, has solidified his transition from pretty-boy actor to premiere Hollywood royalty. His position as an A-list talent is indisputable, but to be honest, many of us who fell in love with him in Thelma and Louise and Legends of the Fall, can’t help but see past the gorgeous exterior. While it is impossible for the man to look anything other than handsome, in this film, he was able to transcend that persona into the complex, conflicted character whose calloused heart makes him almost ugly. Almost…

Set in Germany during the last days of WWII, the viewer must take a deep breath and prepare for the ultimate in gore. I don’t think I have ever seen a war movie this graphic, and I have seen most of them, even though they aren’t my favorite genre. But since the men in my family insisted I give it a shot, I relented, thinking that at the very least, I could rest my eyes on the bodacious Mr. Pitt for a couple of hours. Thankfully, at the opening credits, the allure of Brad washed away and Sgt. Collier aka Wardaddy came alive.

Most of the film takes place in a beat-up, five-man Sherman tank plowing through Germany on the Allied Army’s march to Berlin. Other than the concentration camps, the horrors of the Nazi regime are felt: destruction and dead body parts everywhere, women prostituting themselves, children being forced to fight and kill, and then the public hanging of those who refused. Wardaddy, a seasoned commander, sports a perfectly coiffed crew cut and maintains the outer dignity of a hardened soldier, and yet there are glimpses here and there of a crack in his armor. Most notably is his quick and gruesome execution of the Nazi commandant who used ruthless recruiting tactics on German children. Immediately, the viewer understands that our antihero has a respect for the innocent, which is a theme that plays out through the entire film.

Despite the gore, Wardaddy and his three surviving tank members laugh and guffaw like the blood-brothers they are, having been together since North Africa. First there is the Bible-quoting gunner named Bible (Shia LaBeouf), the wise-cracking lead driver, Gordo (Michael Peña) and the foul-mouthed, grotesque mechanic, Coon-Ass (Jon Berenthal). Cocky and mean, they are a ruthless bunch with no intention of being taken down this late in the war. Enter the new man to replace the fifth spot, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who is an adorable, innocent typist with no spine at all to shoot and kill. Wardaddy and his men quickly realize Norman must be indoctrinated into the rules of battle if they are to survive.


When Norman’s reluctance to shoot his weapon puts the other men at risk, Wardaddy’s patience snaps and his dark side emerges with a vengeance. In a disturbing and sickening scene, Wardaddy forces Norman to murder a Nazi soldier as he begs for his life. Like a ruthless tyrant deflowering a virgin, Wardaddy places Norman’s hand on the pistol as an all-out struggle ensues between good and evil. Norman fights desperately for his innocence, but the ravages of war win out and the Nazi is killed. Wardaddy and his men discount Norman’s grief, glad he has gone from being a wide-eyed boy to a violated man.

The viewer is horrified, and yet one realizes that Wardaddy is just doing his job in the best way he knows how. In Wardaddy’s world, keeping his men alive is paramount over everything else, and the methods used to achieve that end are justified, regardless of their brutality.

Wardaddy’s complexity is further revealed when the men arrive at a ransacked village and have an encounter with two German women (Anamaria Marinca and Alicia von Rittberg). He takes Norman with him to their flat, using this opportunity to make amends for the Nazi-killing incident. Set on completing Norman’s transformation into a man, Wardaddy proffers the younger of the two women, insisting Norman take the girl to bed and seal the fate of his mangled virginity. Norman complies, but the tryst is one of romance and a soul connection, not rape. This pleases Wardaddy, even though the rules of war dictate that one does not fall in love with German girls.

There is quite a bit of mystery in this scene, especially when the other men show up. The viewer isn’t sure if Wardaddy will take on the role of guardian and protector of what Norman and this German girl have experienced or if he will give in to being a maniacal monster. Fortunately, he protects her from the other men, revealing another crack in his armor. The viewer realizes Wardaddy has a heart, and that he isn’t so evil after all.

But alas, a bomb attacks the village and the women are killed, which is more of a crushing blow to Norman than the murder of the Nazi soldier. Angry and hardened, Norman wastes no time firing his weapon on any and everything that moves. Despite Wardaddy’s pride in Norman becoming a true soldier, there is a sense that his softer side grieves over the loss of the innocent boy.

The climax builds to an exciting battle where the five men take on over three hundred SS soldiers. Wardaddy stands his ground, inflicting much damage to the Germans, but he knows the odds are stacked against them. There is a wonderful moment where the men realize they are about to die: Bible quotes a scripture from the Old Testament, acknowledging his purpose in fulfilling God’s will for his life. Wardaddy identifies the scripture as coming from the book of Isaiah, shocking the other men with his Biblical knowledge. It is proof that this hardened man of war is actually a person of true faith.

The final death scene is profound, with Wardaddy sacrificing himself to ensure Norman’s escape. As a young Nazi soldier stares into Norman’s frightened eyes, we see a pair of innocent hearts both desiring peace even though they are sworn enemies on opposite sides of the battlefield. After a long hesitation, the Nazi moves away, letting Norman scamper into the woods to safety. Of all the men to escape, it is the pure, undefiled Norman who will live on after the chaos and destruction cease. The viewer senses this is exactly what Wardaddy would have wanted.

Fury is great storytelling, with a complexity that exceeds the normal entertainment palette of the average American moviegoer. Essentially, this film is gourmet to the fast food fare that typically floods the box office every week. My kind of movie!

Ignore the other reviews out there that aren’t so kind; those reviewers are blind to the subtle and beautifully crafted message in this wonderful story.  Again, Mr. Ayers, the actors, and film making crew should be commended for this terrific accomplishment!

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