The first half of the new war film Fury is grim, gritty, and intriguing, but soon it all goes terribly awry. The premise of the film is not particularly unique in the war movie genre, an experienced squad, or in this case the crew of a Sherman tank, have an inexperienced new recruit thrust into their ranks.
The setting for the picture is Nazi Germany in what will prove to be the final weeks of the war. The evil of the fascist state is aptly illustrated, and the landscape remains dangerous. Upon surveying the destruction all around them one GI appropriately comments, “It’s hard to believe we’re winning the war.”
Brad Pitt portrays Staff Sergeant Collier, a combat veteran who stays alive thanks to experience and instinct, and always staying one step ahead of the situation with a sharp eye, and a steady temperament.
The film seems authentic as it shows the camaraderie, rivalry, and locker room humor of the tank crew. In the best scene of the film the crew sits down to an impromptu meal with two civilian occupants of a German home in a town that was only moments ago cleared of hostile combatants. It is in this scene in which we realize that the whole crew is on the verge of a total psychological breakdown and is likely only able to hold themselves together thanks to their training and a will to survive.
One of the strange things the viewer notices early on is the unusual amount of religious imagery and quoting of Christian Biblical verses. At first the viewer might suppose that this is going to be a device used to question the faith of man in a situation of endless horrors, which are graphically illustrated in the combat scenes. At one point a character so prone to quoting the scripture that his nickname is “Bible” is asked if Jesus loves Hitler, and for those keeping score at home, the answer is “yes,” if Hitler were to accept Christ.
By the second half of the film two things go wildly wrong. First, the combat scenes go from the tense and shocking to so over the top and unlikely, that they seem straight out of a horror flick or adolescent video game. Secondly, the dialogue goes from being sprinkled with Bible verses to positively clogged. I began to wonder if it was the American Army or the Salvation Army that was fighting the Third Reich.
The film does boast some excellent performances, including Chicago native Michael Pena, known best for portraying farm worker activist Cesar Chavez in the film of the same name. English actor Jason Isaacs adopts a convincing New York accent in a small role as a weary and realistic Captain, and actor Jon Bernthal, who studied at the Moscow Art Theater School, is memorable as a loutish north Georgia Redneck. Sadly, these performances are all wasted by the second half of the film when the script turns utterly preposterous.
For films set during the waning days of WWII one would do well to check out I Was Nineteen, a 1968 production of the German Democratic Republic, that not only deals with the fanaticism of last ditch Nazi resistance led by the SS, but unmasks the aristocratic Wehrmacht officer corps as well. For a look inside the lives of a tank crew of the same period it is hard to beat the 1969 Soviet production In War as in War.
As for Fury, after they cut out all the dirty words, it might have a future being screened at Baptist Bible summer camps or at Promise Keeper rally after-parties, but for a working class audience it will remain little more than a curious oddity in the war movie catalog .
Directed by David Ayer
2014, 134 min., Rated R
Photo: Brad Pitt stars in “Fury.” (Fury on Facebook)