I’m always surprised when a big budget Hollywood war movie comes along, and it tries to do things in really unconventional ways. Take this film for example, starring Jack Black as a man in a giant tiger costume who meets a lovable woman named Ferna (played by Aubrey Plaza), who also happens to dress up in a giant wolf costume. Sure, the outside world doesn’t understand their lifestyle, or their sexual impulses, but – uhhh. Wait… This is embarrassing… One second…
(leaves the 6:45 pm screening of “Furry” in auditorium 8, and enters the 7 pm screening of “Fury” in auditorium 9)
Fury is about a group of soldiers in WWII, driving a tank named “Butterscotch”, who are – sorry… The tank’s name is “Fury“, I was still thinking about that other movie. Anyway, they are on seemingly endless missions, wandering through Germany at the tail end of the war. All of them are hardened, emotional wrecks; and when a young soldier enters the mix to replace their fallen driver, he gets rapid fire lessons on just how awful war can be. The compiling frustration that the Germans just refuse to end the war despite the fact that they have practically been broken into nothingness, makes for a haunting film about seeing things through in the most horrifying way possible. And I don’t mean haunting like an acoustic HAIM cover of a Fleetwood Mac song, I mean haunting like the ghost of this movie is still following me around everywhere I go and making me really anxious.
As a story, Fury doesn’t really have more than two plot points (both of which are in the trailer, so I don’t feel like I’m ruining them here), which are the introduction of the rookie, and the inevitable showdown at the end where five guys have to take on three hundred Nazis. If I had to pinpoint any themes of the film, I don’t think it ever went much off the track of “war is hell”, and “quitting is for jerks”. The very prevalent notion that these American soldiers are putting their lives on the line and getting blown to hell against a German force who are being giant babies about surrendering is terrifying in itself. It’s like seeing the finish line of a very long race just a mile away from you, but first you have to walk through a barb-wire minefield while people stubborn jerks shoot bazookas at you because they are grumpy for finishing in last place. It’s no wonder all of these characters are on the brink of a mental breakdown. They all assume if they survive the week they might get to go home, but the week is going to be a nonstop nightmare. A sense of potential future security compromised by the constant threat of painful death seems like just about the worst thing ever to me.
All of this accented by some really great technical filmmaking. The cinematography is top-notch, with some really great editing as well. The action scenes are a particular highlight, as they are running at pretty much maximum intensity. Uncomfortably intense, I would even say. And I loved the choice to make all of the gunfire light up with green, red, and blue streaks. It looked like a freakin’ Star Wars laser gun battle! But then someone’s head would explode just to remind you that this ain’t some pretty light show. It was cool as hell to look at, though. I’d rank it up there as some of the best cinematic war violence I’ve ever seen. And holy cow, just give the sound mixer his Oscar right now. The audio was incredible, worth the price of theater admission by itself. You hear every bullet leaving a gun, and you hear every bullet hitting something else. There was a moment when I flinched at *the sound* of a tank missile whizzing past the camera.
Fury isn’t a perfect film, though, it has its flaws. Probably the most heavily noticable negative in my opinion were the characters and the performances. For the first hour of the movie, more than any other movie I’ve seen recently, it felt like I was just watching actors pretend-playing in costumes. The whole point of these things called “films” are to get lost in the characters and treat them as a temporary active extension of reality. But for the first several scenes I just couldn’t stop thinking “THAT’S SHIA LABEOUF, HE’S DOING AN ACCENT, AND HE’S TRYING TOO HARD.” It also didn’t help that initially it felt like Brad Pitt was going a little too heavy on the Aldo Raine/Inglorious Basterds voice that we’ve already heard before. He used the same speech patterns, and even said some of the same lines like “give ‘em yer what fer!” Actually, I did not care for the accent choices on a lot of the characters.
And then even *more so*, hearing all the stories that have been circulating around the production about the actors going through crazy boot camps, and the director staging off camera fistfights to get people in the right mindset, and Shia LaBeouf actually cutting his face and having a tooth removed because he’s sooooo method, it made me think of Fury as like a real life Tropic Thunder situation, with all these big name actors taking their craft to an almost laughably stupid level of commitment; as if they were actually in a war, and not just filming a movie about a war. But during a pivotal series of scenes in a conquered town at the end of the first act, the director finally decided to give all the characters a HEAVY dose of character development. Like all at once. And I finally began to accept them more as believable people in this story and less as Shia and Brad trying to win Oscars.
All of the engrossing action and constant sense of impending horror made this 140 minute movie feel more like a 100 minute movie. It flew by for me. And I want to see it again. Those are two of the biggest compliments I can give a movie. Fury is one of the most visceral, intense films of the year. Way better than Furry, which I thought was a bit too obvious, and surprisingly condescending. I don’t need Kevin Hart in a pelican costume trying to tell me *I’M* the one not living life to the fullest.
8.5 out of 10