Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Glass Cannon: David Ayer’s Fury

Five men operate an M4 Sherman tank in the autumn of World War II, struggling to keep themselves and each other alive. Gordo (Michael Peña), Bible (Shia LaBoeuf), Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal) and their commander Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) lose their front gunner, and he is replaced by the squeaky-clean Norman (Logan Lerman), who must abandon his naïve sense of morality if he is to survive with the others. This is the setup for Fury, directed by David Ayer, which doesn’t do much of anything other than make a great deal of noise, but it does so with expertise and intensity.

Fury’s strongest element is far and away the performances of the tank crew, whose chemistry and sense of camaraderie is wholly believable. Pitt relates the weight of Wardaddy’s repressed guilt in a physical hunch, bowed over by self-hatred for what he sees as necessarily evil work that he must do, and do silently. Peña is underused but provides some desperately needed levity, while Bernthal and Lerman play their underwritten roles with appropriate gusto. For his part, Shia LaBoeuf has been, if not enjoying, then enduring a considerable amount of press over the past year, and if his offscreen antics are the product of Method preparation then I say it was all worth it – his portrayal of Bible is a captivating, fully realized interpretation of the “Scripture-spouting soldier” archetype that appears in nearly every war movie. He communicates volumes without speaking; when he does speak, his control and restraint are arresting, and he displays several physical tics that seem as real as the surviving operational tanks used for filming. I’ve always felt LaBoeuf gets a bad rap, and while I had little love for his squeaky-voiced earlier years, I’m glad Fury finally gave him a chance to show what he’s made of. I’ll be looking out for more from him in the future.

Shia LaBoeuf in Fury
Fury is a dark film, and this is immediately apparent: the colour palette is full of drab greens and muddy greys, but the images are presented in exacting detail, and the film is visually rich despite its heavily desaturated “wartime” look. (Perhaps my favourite moment is a shot during a travel sequence following Wardaddy’s gaze as he looks skyward, catching a glimpse of a dogfight through the clouds – a potent visual reminder that while an exciting, grand, and complex battle for the skies is happening far above, we’re stuck with the characters in slow-moving metal boxes crawling labouriously through the mud.) Much of the ferocity advertised by the title is conveyed aurally, and the sound design is as meticulous and painstaking as the visuals. Ayer is wise to confine the majority of battle action to the interior of the tank, keeping us close to the sweaty claustrophobia and panicked breathing of the actors, so sound is a crucial tool in informing us of where the danger is coming from – bullets seem to ricochet from one side of the cinema to the other and each round fired from the mouth of the tank’s 75mm cannon is a percussive blast that shakes the ribcage. The action is white-knuckle (thanks mostly to masterful editing by Dody Dorn), especially an extended sequence in which four American M4 Sherman tanks face off against a single German Tiger I, during which it was nearly impossible to tear my eyes from the screen. Fury might often cause you to look away, but it’s skillful at forcing you to watch when it wants you to.

Thankfully there are many breaks in the action during which you can rest and prepare for the next onslaught. I’m no stranger to violence in media – and in many cases I enjoy it – but like most war films, which decry the violence they openly portray with sombre scores and sorrowful shots of flags waving over graveyards, Fury doesn’t encourage you to enjoy yourself. At least Fury comes by its savagery honestly; there’s no room for artificial sentimentality in a movie full of man-made monsters killing one another, except perhaps for pure disgust. Every colour of brutality is wiped across the screen, from a soldier who pulls out his sidearm and shoots himself rather than continuing to burn to death, to a shell traveling clean through both a tank and its occupants. Lerman’s Norman is introduced to the world of tank warfare by cleaning what remains of his predecessor’s brains off his seat with a bucket of water. No comment is made on this inhumanity, except to show what it does to the people committing the act. What isn’t considered is what it does to the audience.

In the end, therefore, there’s no real point. Fury is tough to recommend except as a warning against militaristic jingoism. We see soldiers forced to become cruel, unfeeling killers in their fight against cruel, unfeeling enemies, where the giddy post-battle relief when a crewman realizes they’re still alive is enough to make them say “Best job I ever had” and mean it. It’s human only in its portrayal of how war corrupts our altruistic tendencies, and exists seemingly only to prove this belaboured truism, and not to provide a memorable story or anything much else beyond an overabundance of brutal death. It’s worth seeing for the performances, and there are some exhilarating action set pieces, but even those with stomachs of steel should tread carefully.

 Justin Cummings is a writer, blogger, playwright, and graduate of Queen's University's English Language & Literature program. He has been an avid gamer and industry commentator since he first fed a coin into a Donkey Kong machine. He is currently pursuing a career in games journalism and criticism in Toronto.

No comments:

Post a Comment