With the new year approaching, we celebrate our films of 2014. David Ayer’s Fury is up.
Francois Truffaut once claimed that it was impossible to make an anti-war film. “To show something is to enoble it”, he said; what would be nerve-shredding or frightening to real soldiers could prove perfect dramatic material for us as viewers. Fury, with its relentless, draining portrayal of combat and dehumanisation at the tail-end of WWII, is a marked exception. While Hollywood history is littered with war movies too thrilling to admonish conflict altogether and propaganda pieces merely masquerading as ‘anti-war’ – take a bow, Saving Private Ryan – Fury comes closer than most to challenging Truffaut’s maxim.
Fury is the most savage war movie to emerge from Hollywood in decades. It’s a nihilist’s tale of ordinary men made bad by battle
David Ayer’s fifth (and finest) film as director is the most savage war movie to emerge from the Hollywood mainstream in decades, not just because its violence is sudden and shocking, but because it’s a nihilist’s tale of ordinary men made bad by battle. This gallery of horror brings us uncanny images, like a convoy of tanks rolling over already-flattened human roadkill, a blazing soldier choosing to shoot himself rather than burn to death, and an enemy tank missing its target and instead removing the head of an Allied tank commander. The worst fate, however, is reserved for Fury’s survivors; they’re the ones who have to deal with making it through and seeing.
In the Germany of spring 1945, Hitler’s declaration of total war has turned every German citizen into a potential danger to invading Allied forces. One tank unit, comprised of commander ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt), gunner ‘Bible’ Swan (Shia LaBeouf, the method finally paying off), loader Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis (Jon Bernthal) and driver ‘Gordo’ Garcia (Michael Pena), have been fighting inside the Fury since North Africa, but now, at the very end, they seem more under threat than ever. Along with new assistant driver Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), Fury’s crewmen are faced with a fanaticism that’s only making them in turn more uncompromising and sadistic. This young newcomer will lose his innocence fast not just because Fury’s crew revel in his punishment, but because they view callousness as necessary for survival.
For close comparisons, you’d have to look outside the multiplexes for Fury’s cinematic brethren. European war films like Come and See and The Red and the White gave us war lacking in sentimentality or discernible morality, and Fury similarly offers a glimpse of desperate men merely trying to kill before they’re killed. Wardaddy, Bible, Grady and Gordo want to make it out of the war alive through animal instinct, but an exhausting dinner scene midway through the film offers a hint of how ruined they are as human beings.
Having witnessed for years “what a man can do to another man”, the crew of the Fury no longer spare any tears for humanity
Gordo, drunk and fresh from being fucked by a local German woman in exchange for his cigarettes, relays a story to fresh-faced Norman of the time the crew were assigned to slaughtering German horses after D-Day. Side-characters are introduced and despatched before the crew of the Fury ever really learn who they are, but Gordo’s tale is the only thing that visibly makes them feel anything – this, of all things, brings the young veterans to tears. Having witnessed for years “what a man can do to another man”, they no longer spare any tears for humanity.
War isn’t just violent and absurd in Fury, it’s inherently pointless. Here we are, at the close, watching the vastly superior force annihilate an army that’s already defeated. These men were taught their war was one of good vs evil, but they’ve been fighting long enough to know that isn’t the truth. They fight an enemy as human and desperate as they are simply because those are the orders. It’s not good vs evil, but me vs him, a test of reflexes and training. These soldiers on the ground understand that they fight for the same basic reasons their ‘enemy’ does, and they understand they’ve been sold a lie.
Fury is a rare WWII movie taken from the Allied POV that eschews the idea of heroism in combat entirely, on either side. What some critics of the film regarded as the film’s incongruous act of ‘heroism’ at the finale is actually (spoiler alert) a collective act of suicide by a group of irreparably damaged soldiers who can’t face the idea of trying to readjust back to regular life and face what they’ve done (end spoiler). War has been hell for these men, and they realise it’s been all for nothing, nothing but doing the bidding of the powers-that-be that told them they had something glorious to fight for.
War has been hell for these men, and they realise it’s been all for nothing, nothing but doing the bidding of the powers-that-be
Whether intentionally or not, Fury urges us not to repeat our mistakes. It currently feels like the West is destined to remain in a cycle of leaving certain areas in ruins then acting surprised when trouble arises there again, and only inventing a good vs evil narrative and getting the public on board is going to keep troops returning. It’s a lie. Fury is a reaction to that lie. It’s a difficult watch, written by one of Hollywood’s most distinct voices and performed to perfection by a supremely talented ensemble, but difficult nonetheless. It reminds us that none of the ‘ideological’ wars raging right now are in any way noble.
All images: Columbia