The cops may be gone, but moral compromises still exist with Ayer’s latest.
War is hell. So is finding peace.
Not the let’s all hold hands and skip around a campfire type of peace. That’s a peace of frivolity. Inner peace is hell. It is something that can be disguised with a poker face, masking the stressors that continue to rankle. Mental acuity and homeostasis and all that doctor speak means little when you are in a foreign land serving your country against an enemy who could be every bit as anxious as you; where the outcome is someone lives, another dies.
For David Ayer, a writer-director whose greatest and most personable works are associated with the exploitations of officers of the law, he seems to concern himself with men and the struggle to stay honest as they dispense clips of ammo against the enemy. Protect and serve while maintaining righteousness. Having supplied the script for Training Day, people tend to focus on star Denzel Washington and director Antoine Fuqua. Yet, it is Ethan Hawke as rookie narcotics officer Jake Hoyt and his entrance into this world that is most revealing of character and compromise. In this one 24-hour training period the decisions Hoyt makes has him descending further into the shadier practices of law enforcement until his conscience comes into play and he does the right thing.
Ayer’s latest, Fury, is a departure in subject – cops have been replaced with U.S. Army grunts – but not as it pertains to the moral compromise that exists. Much in the sense that Ron Shelton with Bull Durham and White Men Can’t Jump understood his characters, whether they were minor leaguers unsure of what to get as a wedding gift or street hustlers in neon tank-tops and backwards caps, Ayer has that same sort of commitment here by having characters who define themselves not only in the heat of battle but off the battlefield as well.
It’s April 1945. The setting is Germany. Five months later the Second World War will be over. But the men who inhabit the Sherman tank “Fury” don’t know that. We have Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), the scripture-quoting bookworm Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), driver and machine gunner Trini Garcia (Michael Peña), the poorly educated Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), and baby face Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), looking like he was pulled out of boot and told to go to that tank over there. Which is pretty much how it happened; Norman, a 60 word-per-minute typist, is assigned to Fury to replace another gunner who didn’t survive the most recent skirmish.
The weathered soldiers, save this one baby-faced rook, who occupy Fury have seen their fair share of action across countries and continents; they have a history together that reveals itself gradually. Each new admission supports the ugliness of war and the ideal that history at its basic core is evil.
Fury is dirty. Not just in looks – which is mostly gray and brown – but in spirit, too. The slaughter these men have committed can’t be quantified with a pencil and straightedge. And it’s not just killing Nazis. During one interlude a story is told of what they had to do the days after the allies gained the Normandy coast after D-Day. Even without added visual stimuli the images audiences will see in their mind’s eye is enough to turn one’s stomach. Yet it is moments like this that helped to forge this outfit. Any ideals these men once had are gone. Nobility is dead. The passage of time spent in the confines a 30-ton sardine can doesn’t allow for commiseration. Moments to exhale and compartmentalize the savagery are few, but when they do occur the result is wickedly honest.
The men of Fury are character sketches and intentionally drawn. Pitt as Sgt. Collier is a considerable drop in rank from when he was Lt. Aldo “The Apache” Raine in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Their gruffness is shared but Wardaddy has resigned himself to the reality around him. Whereas Tarantino created an alternate universe – a wish fulfillment fantasy, if you will – Ayer’s approach is in having his characters be merciless and merciful to a point. His soldiers gun down Nazis with delight, having about as much fun as Eli Roth’s “Bear Jew” in Basterds. Granted we are meeting these men in the throes of war, having spent months fighting in Africa and France. Killing may have been difficult at first, like it was for young Norman, and then it gets easier. There’s no room for compassion. It is about soldiering on and using a med kit to mask the erosion that inevitably affects all men in combat fatigues.
Pitt is imposing as Collier and unabashedly assertive when it comes to duty. Equally as good is LaBeouf as Swan. An actor who has made headlines for all the wrong reasons of late, LaBeouf seems to have matured with his latest turn on screen. His Swan character is a soft-spoken nurturer to the men under Collier, providing a pseudo husband/wife dynamic. They rarely speak to one another and are on different planes emotionally, much like most unhappy couples. Maybe if the sun would ever come out (it doesn’t), then perhaps they could find that inner peace that eludes them.
Building up his resume behind the camera, Ayer definitely has an eye for getting every inch of physicality he can from the action. The biggest set piece saved for the grand finale, of course, is pure derring-do by the men of Fury, but a sequence a few minutes prior is an engaging ballet if the performers were replaced with Sherman and German Panzer tanks.
From the rat-a-tat of heavy gunfire to the bombardment of explosive panging to tank tracks in need of proper maintenance, these sounds serve as the personal soundtrack for the men as they drive further into Germany. The tank is their home, pungent it may be. Outside is death, pungent as it is. Inside is comfort – knowing that the person next to you will fight until he breathes his last breath. He would have gone through hell and finally achieved peace.
Writer/Director: David Ayer Notable Cast: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Logan Lerman, Jay Bernthal
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!