Fury is ostensibly a movie conceived to shower well-deserved praise upon The Greatest Generation that America has ever produced. The film earnestly captures the brutality, misery, and lethal efficiency that American soldiers endured after World War II turned Earth into a Thunderdome. It does so by spending 127 minutes turning grave injury and incalculable tragedy into casual monotony. It’s a strategy that highlights the mental and emotional trauma that soldiers must endure during war to do a job that is not nearly as sexy as full-dress uniforms make it seem. The film ultimately asks it audience to look past spectacle and see people.
And don’t get me wrong, Fury is great spectacle. The film features some truly stunning shots of the English countryside, especially the wide ones. (While the film's story takes place in Germany, it was primarily shot in the United Kingdom because the British Isle is home to more working World War II-era tanks than any other place on the planet. Put that in your trivia bag!) Another striking aspect of the film is its use of lighting and color. The film's color palette is predominantly muted and desaturated and that gives the film a gritty and realistic look. The purposeful use of shadows and low-key lighting adds to the film's somber and intense atmosphere. Overall, Fury is a great example of technical filmmaking.
However, the cast is the strongest element of Fury. Casting directors, Lindsay Graham and Mary Vernieu deserve high praise for assembling the film’s fantastic troupe of players. Shia LaBeouf (Remember him?) plays Boyd "Bible" Swan. Bible mans Fury’s main gun with the Christian zeal of a medieval Crusader. Michael Peña adds some color to the cast as Trini "Gordo" Garcia. He gives a nuanced performance that allows for meaningful consideration of American race relations without making it the elephant in the room. Jon Bernthal really leans into his role as the crew’s grizzled gun loader, Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis. Bernthal has a real knack for playing roles that make him look like a total “Ass-Hole” and it shines in this movie. (I’m sure he’s a real nice guy though!) Jokes aside, these supporting characters really help bolster the performance of the film’s two main characters.
The performances of Logan Lerman as Norman “Machine” Ellison and Brad Pitt as Don "Wardaddy" Collier drive Fury. Ellison is a cherry private assigned to the crew as a replacement and is kind of a sniveling shit. It’s really hard to like him right up until the end of the movie. Contrarily, Wardaddy is the embodiment of battle-hardened experience that commands respect. He’s pragmatic. He’s technically proficient. He’s The Daddy. And all of that makes Ellison and Collier perfect foils for one another.
They give you two different perspectives on the cruelty of war that eventually focus to the same point. This is helpful because Fury depicts the violence and destruction of war in such unfathomably vivid detail. There are dismemberments, infernos, and point blank executions. Ellison and Collier provide frames of reference for uninitiated audiences that may have never been to war and enables them to make sense of the carnage. The brutality of Fury seems hyperbolic for the sake of spectacle, but the point of a movie like Fury or Saving Private Ryan (1998) is to provide digestible insight: insight into how war affects the humanity of its participants.
Ellison’s naivety and kindness throughout the film feel bright and humane. However, they also feel inappropriate. That’s a real moral conundrum that the film does a good job of exploring. At one point in the movie, Wardaddy says, “I started [WWII] killing Germans in Africa. Then France. Then Belgium. Now I'm killing Germans in Germany. It will end, soon. But before it does, a lot more people gotta die.” That's psychotic, but wholly appropriate because the essence of war, for 10,000 years, has been to relentlessly kill your opponent and indiscriminately break their stuff. There is nothing bright or humane about it. Fury effectively uses Wardaddy's cynicism and Ellison's innocence to provide context for a dark reality: War is hell.
When I joined the Army in 2005, I fully expected to be in Iraq before the ink was dry on my contract. And even though I had been indoctrinated to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat, I was not prepared for the reality of it. I got there and people were actually killing one another…in the most brutal ways possible. There were times, early on, when I felt like Norman Ellison. I wanted to be a gentleman warrior. I quickly realized that I had to be a Wardaddy if I was going to give myself, or any of the people I was fighting with, a chance to survive.
Fury is currently streaming on all major platforms.