Friday, October 31, 2014
It's hard to make a World War II movie nowadays and really have it stand out. There are so many WWII movies out there that if you watched all of them, you would probably understand the war from just about every angle imaginable. The era of WWII was a fascinating time. There were clear villains and clear heroes. It's a war that impacted the lives of millions of people all around the world and it exposed just how horrific and ugly humanity could be, in a lot of ways.
But WWII also symbolizes victory for the good guys. When it comes to war stories, documentaries, movies----we always come back to World War II and it's easy to understand why. After all, we won. It's always fascinating to hear stories regarding World War II, but it's telling just how much we dwell on the era. Sure, there have been plenty of movies made about Vietnam and several movies and documentaries have been made about the Iraq War and ongoing war in Afghanistan. But it's curious to see filmmakers continuing to mine stories out of the WWII era, considering the fact that we're well into the second decade of the war in Afghanistan. Is another movie about WWII really necessary?
Earlier this year, George Clooney made a movie about WWII from a much different perspective, the perspective of a group of men who are sent to Europe to preserve historical pieces of art. "The Monuments Men" was unfortunately botched in the execution, but at least the story was different enough to justify its existence. This month, writer/director David Ayer, primarily known for his films about the LAPD, has also decided to take a stab at making a WWII movie, this time from the perspective of a tank crew. We may not see as many movies made about tank crews in World War II, but is "Fury" good enough to justify its existence?
In terms of technology, Nazi Germany had America beat when it came to tanks. The Germans' tanks were much more advanced and more difficult to topple and that is shown here in "Fury," particularly in a scene where four American tanks go against a giant German tank and only one manages to make it out alive.
"Fury" takes place during the last few days of World War II, but you wouldn't know America was coming close to a victory by the attitudes of these men. Understandably. If you've been battling for over four years, constantly fearing for your life on a daily basis, you wouldn't hold much optimism for your future either. But these men, lead by Brad Pitt's character Sgt. Collier, stick together through thick and thin and it's through their camaraderie and experience that they're able to survive.
But not everyone in Collier's crew survives. When we first meet Collier, his assistant driver/bow gunner is already dead, and the Army scrambles to find him a new one. Pvt. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) has only been in the Army for eight weeks and has zero tank experience to speak of. But he's thrown in with the Fury crew anyway and he soon finds that his naivete and innocence has no place with this crew. Things get especially hairy when the Private refuses to shoot a teenage Nazi soldier and several lives are lost as a result.
In "Fury," it's either kill or be killed. And you feel that tension from beginning to end, especially when Pvt. Ellison shows up. The only thing that relieves the movie of that tension is the chemistry among these men. That's why it's too bad these main characters are all so one-dimensional. You have the deeply religious Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf), whose nickname is literally "Bible." There's Cpl. "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Cena), who is the token minority. There's the overly-macho meathead, Pfc. Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal) who always seems eager to bust shit up. And rounding out the main cast are the aforementioned Sgt. Collier and Pvt. Ellison.
Brad Pitt's character, Sgt. Collier is the closest to having a real personality, but when I watch this stoic yet barely-keeping-it-together character on screen, I can't help but think of Tom Hanks in "Saving Private Ryan." Logan Lerman is also not given much chance to shine, despite the praise that's been given to his performance. Private Ellison's character arc from scared newbie to trained professional just comes off completely flat and it's been done so many fucking times. And Ayer demonstrates no effort in making Ellison's character feel new and original.
Even in a 134-minute movie, Ellison's character doesn't appear to have much time to grow the way he does here. "Fury" is supposed to be set over the course of one month and it just seems highly unlikely that Ellison would, on one day, be so unwilling to kill a soldier that his superior officer literally has to pull the trigger for him... to, all of a sudden, being ready and eager to kill, all the while shouting "Fuck you Nazis!" in the midst of battle.
It's not that David Ayer doesn't give Ellison a reason for this shift in character, it's just that the reason he gives is so lame, so rote, so overdone that it just doesn't work. In one of the movie's quieter moments, Sgt. Collier takes the private to a frightened German woman's apartment. He and his men had just finished an excruciating battle and now it's time to relax. When the Sergeant discovers that there's a second woman hiding in the apartment, instead of losing his cool, he decides this is now the perfect moment for Private Ellison to "pop his cherry" so to speak. And, over the course of a couple of hours, we're supposed to believe that the private connects with the woman so profoundly that he actually, seriously, falls in love with her.
Perhaps a director with more touch and grace could have pulled this scene off, but David Ayer is not exactly a romantic-type. I'm withholding some key information about this scene so as to not spoil it, but needless to say, the sequence is supposed to be the turning point in which Collier is no longer a boy, but "a man." It's cliche, it's rushed, it's by-the-numbers. It just doesn't work.
There are some amazingly intense and extremely well-done battle sequences here and it's given the added touch of taking place largely inside a tank. The claustrophobic effect is palpable, but by the time we get to the film's rousing and bloody conclusion, we have been given nothing from these characters to elicit a true emotional response.
We're supposed to choke on our tears and have our hearts go out to these guys when they decide to take on an entire squad of German soldiers by themselves. They don't have to go out in a blaze of glory, but it wouldn't make for much of a movie if they didn't. So, they give everything they got until they run out of all their ammo and it's a thrill to watch, but those thrills ultimately feel hollow.
In the year 2014, at a time when America's war-weariness is perhaps at an all-time high, it's just impossible to watch a movie like this and not think about the fact that we are in our 13th year of war. It's understandable, surely, in the year 1945 to hear these soldiers proclaim that their job is "the best job" they've ever had, but it's weird hearing it in the year 2014 when, really, all we want is for our beloved soldiers to come home. You have to wonder what the motivations are for David Ayer to want to write a WWII movie like this. "Fury" has absolutely nothing new to say about World War II, or about war in general. Ultimately, it just feels generic.