FURY: Pitt, Ayer, tanks and World War II power

I’ll be revisiting old movie reviews from the past three years here this summer. Ones you may have missed, passed up or completely forgot about. Stay tuned. First up is Brad Pitt’s FURY.

Fury“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.”-Don“War Daddy” Collier (Brad Pitt)

Diagnosis-Fury is the best World War II film since Saving Private Ryan and also brings out the best performance in the troubled career of Shia Labeouf.

David Ayer has been waiting to make Fury for a long time, holding his ace of spades in his pocket for the past decade. Let’s just say he didn’t miss when he swung for the fence with Fury, a brutally realistic punch to the gut that combines the red meat history of Saving Private Ryan with the visceral testosterone of Lone Survivor.

There are certain genres a director has to be careful with and World War II is one of them. War pictures aren’t easy to make these days because there have been so many different takes on the battle that killed many and ended in victory. Ayer could have wrapped this tale in Hollywood gloss and just phoned it in. Viewers are generally worn out with this genre that doing something original and viscerally exciting is a hard task. Ayer pulls it off here by choosing the right story and bringing an authentic touch to the camera.

Fury tells a darker tale of the war, a time towards the end that saw the monstrous German tanks leveling the lesser equipped American tanks and where Hitler got so desperate that he deployed men, women and kids to try to and win the war. Ayer isn’t afraid to show you the coldness that violence brings to the souls and how killing a man truly changes a person.

Brad Pitt leads a tremendous cast that shows just how important each individual role can be. Pitt is the Hanks of the group, the battle tested and soul deprived captain of the group traveling in the tank, called Fury. Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal and Shia Labeouf are his partners in crime and when we find them, young Logan Lerman(Perks Of Being A Wallflower) is replacing a fallen member of the group. Right away, the personalities of the group come out and this is where the actors thrive. Bernthal is wide eyed nuts and runs away with a role that could have been horribly overplayed. Pena worked with Ayer in the superb End of Watch and does solid work here as the driver of the tank.

I’ll get to Pitt in a minute but let me tell who steals the film. Shia Labeouf does and it’s because he fully sinks his teeth into the role of Boyd, a devout Christian and a violent damaged soul. Shia may be reckless and undisciplined off the screen, but Ayer took a risk and gave him a meaty role here that the young actor mesmerizes in. Shia shares scenes with Pitt that resonate without dialogue and he is so confident and convincing as a man who has truly been changed by war. It helps that Shia’s childish features have gone away and some ruggedness has approached his facial complexion. Boyd is religious and this is where the role could have went awry. Several scenes in the film involve biblical passages and they are treated with power and grace instead of being preached and dumped on viewers. Shia gets the details of an odd complex role right. He looks the part and steals the film from a stellar cast that also includes plenty of heavy hitters. I don’t care what Shia does off cameras as long as he keeps producing these kind of performances.

Pitt doesn’t work a ton these days and when he does, it’s only for the right director and the right story. He is the perfect guy to play Don Collier, a man who the audience gets to know as the film grows older. At first, he is noble and heroic. Then, he is cold and violent and hard to figure out. Later on, we finally understand what he truly values most and what he is willing to do. Give credit to Pitt for making a role played a million different ways a new shade of grey. While Shia is the scene stealer, Pitt is the moral compass the film swings along on.

Logan Lerman plays the innocent wide eyed kid very well. One day, he will grow up and do something different, but for now he has this end of innocence kid role down perfect. Bernthal is a character actor who has truly run into the supporting role of a lifetime, another role that could have been over the top but is given just the right amount of menace. Everybody in Collier’s crew is damaged goods and it just depends how far past the expiration date their mindset has run. Bernthal, like Labeouf and Pena, make the most of roles that could have went a different way. The cast is stellar. They feel like brothers who have traveled the world fighting bad guys and not like actors who were hired to play a part.

The cinematography is gorgeous and bullet riddled gray. The score by Stephen Price is just right, resisting the urge to overwhelm viewers with bombastic waves of sound and instead going with a Thomas Newman like piano driven melody in several scenes. The action scenes are fantastic and never get old. Ayer used a real tank in the film and it pays off big time with the authenticity of the film’s battle scenes. The little details are done right, and don’t flub history. The haircuts, the manners, the accents, and the general look. Ayer was an artist here, crafting his masterpiece that Oscar will generally overlook in January.

Ayer hit a new level with End Of Watch but proves he can deal in different parts of history. The one thing memorable about his scripts and his films are the way men speak to each other. It’s so realistic and as far from fake as a movie can get. The way Pitt and his crew spit fire at each other and recite biblical passages in a time of war is real and heartfelt and not cheap or played for melodrama. Ayer knows how to write films about men in uniforms.

There’s a scene in a home in Germany. The Americans seize the town and Pitt and Lerman go into this home with two women hiding out. At first, you don’t know what to expect from Pitt. Is he a monster or just a man looking for a time when people didn’t kill one another and a dining room was full of love and peace? The scene is 15 minutes long and played out perfectly, as the rest of the men come in and tension is raised. Ayer doesn’t use a bit of music and lets the actors, especially Pitt and Laboeuf, volley looks and small bursts of dialogue at each other. It’s a humanizing and harrowing look at how war can change people. Ayer gets the action and the quiet more dramatic parts of war right. He is a five tool player here.

When I exited the theater, A World War II vet was talking to a local Allied Marketing rep. This man spent 16 months in Germany during the war. He said this movie got it right. He said, “If I had two thumbs, I would put them up for this movie.” That, my friends, is true authenticity. I can only wish David Ayer could have seen this guy after the film. He was moved.

From the opening image of the tank to the final shot of the film that pans up from the same tank, Fury elevates the expectations we have for this genre in 135 minutes that doesn’t feel like enough when the screen goes black. At times visceral, powerful, and also eerily funny, Fury is easily one of the best films I have seen in 2014 and in the past decade on the subject of World War II.

I don’t just recommend the film. I urge you to see it.

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