Friday, 30 January 2015
David Ayer brings his all-aggression outlook to the second world war, cross-pollinating your standard push for Berlin with the kind of psychological harassment usually seen in prison movies. A squeamish clerical assistant named Norman is billeted in Wardaddy (Brad Pitt)'s tank and forced to scrub his predecessor's face off the dashboard. The bullying of this new fish begins immediately, prompted, mostly, by his inability to act and think like his comrades.
Ayer posits war as a group process, one weak link in the collective and lives are lost. Ayer doesn't sell Norman short, rather than yelp and tantrum like a coward the young Private argues back with a series of reasoned and intelligent points. Unfortunately he's debating shell-shocked brutes emptied out by their experiences. Wardaddy's crew reflex hostile, their cruelty persistently circling sexual violence.
Ayer and Wardaddy's point, illustrated through the wholesale demolition of the Geneva Conventions, is that's the kind of man you have to be to roll over someone else's country. Wardaddy has successfully recruited himself a Sherman full of true believers. Ayer shoots the ensemble as cramped, biological batteries jammed into the shivering, sputtering mechanical whole of the tank. Action is faltering and capricious, the tanks churn on, lighting up distant targets with lancing tracer rounds. Gunfire in Fury reads like laser exchanges, dirty lumbering blocks ejaculating liquid light at tree lines.
Nazi resistance is experienced as a series of ambushes. Children drag Panzerschreck rockets through forests, foxholes are turned into meat fountains by the advancing Shermans. Life beyond the tank is only briefly encountered, the men largely unable to change emotional tact for even a second. Cursory interactions boil with anger, an attempt at breakfast threatens to evolve into a gang rape. Wardaddy's men are like apes, everything is grist for a power play.
Fury's problem is that it does such a good job of sketching a fraught, animalistic war zone that when it dials the mutilation down for a star turn friendly finale the gears start to grind. Sabotage pulled a similar trick to much better success - Schwarzenegger immolating his team to inch towards a two dimensional confrontation worked because Arnold is, regardless of role, an electronic murderer. Genre and star expectations align and are fulfilled.
Unfortunately, Fury's acknowledgement of what its audience, or maybe more accurately its studio, wants works against the film's established ruthlessness. Having Brad Pitt shrug off a full clip of sniper fire, not to mention a couple of potato mashers, without deforming his pin-up looks feels like a sop. Ayer briefly fumbling his abattoir conceit with an incongruous attempt to position Pitt as a flayed angel in a film otherwise obsessed with pancaked Wehrmacht.