It has been said also that you cannot make a movie about war without glorifying war. Francis Ford Coppola tried with Apocalypse Now, Oliver Stone tried with Platoon, and Stanley Kubrick tried with Full Metal Jacket. But in the end all of these movies failed to take that “new car smell” off of humanity’s second most popular pastime for the past few millenniums. In the book Jarhead later turned into the movie of the same name, Anthony Swofford recounts how he and all of his fellow recruits during the time of the original Persian Gulf War were raised on such movies, and how they were shown again and again on base to massive applause. If the message of the movies had gotten through, there would have been more hushed silence than crazy hoots and hollers. In the end the soldiers identify more with the loud and abrasive R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket than they do the pacifist “Joker”, and they side with the near euphoric insanity of Robert Duvall’s Lt. Col. Kilgore who “loves the smell of napalm in the morning” over the conflicted main character played by Martin Sheen. And so it goes.
That being said, Fury is a movie that is unapologetic in its glorification of violence and war. It’s in the tagline even. I saw Fury in the theater this past weekend, and I am glad I did, even though I have plenty of misgivings about certain aspects of it. As a pure spectacle it more than delivers. In a way it is very similar to the recently released Lone Survivor in that it focuses in on a small squad of four or five men who find themselves up against overpowering odds and centers in on their heroic sacrifices as the shining beacon of the movie. Hundreds of nameless, faceless enemy soldiers are mowed down like a more historically sensitive version of Rambo. The message of the movie is clear. To win war you must become war.
Pitt here plays a tank commander named Don “War Daddy” Collier that brings us flashbacks to his character from Inglorious Bastards. You could see the two characters getting along famously at a bar between battles. The other main character is a squeamish young Billy Pilgrim type named Norman (Logan Lerman) who is a new replacement of a recently fallen comrade to the battle tested men of Fury (the name of their tank) who throws up at the sight of blood and finds it generally disagreeable to have to kill people for any reason other than immediate clear cut self defense. This is used as the premise for several unsettling scenes where Pitt’s character and the other original grunts from Fury haze, hassle, and generally make life pure hell for young Norman. In one scene Norman is asked to coldly execute a captured enemy soldier, and when he tearfully refuses the gun is forced into his hand and he is physically made to shoot the helpless German by Pitt’s “War Daddy” character. It as at this point that one begins to wonder where we draw the line between an essential detachment and resignation to the idea of killing as a means of survival and attaining victory at war, and killing for the sake of sheer sociopathic glee.
The best scene of the movie involves Norman and Collier in the apartment of a young German lady and her mother. There is palpable tension all the way through these scenes as we fear for the safety of these two women and watch them interact with the uninvited guests. It is during this portion of the movie that it appears that the director, David Ayer, is about to make some sort of a final stand for decency and humanity as Pitt’s character holds off his ravenous underlings who appear ready to rape and maraud at the drop of a hat (with Michael Peña’s character even sporting a top hat) but ultimately the brief moment of humanity, tense and uncomfortable as it was, is all overshadowed by tragedy, violence, and gore.
“Ideals are peaceful, history is violent” says Brad Pitt’s character at one point in the film. So in that regard this movie is a commentary on previous war movies who have preached on the side of peace. It takes a scrawny weakling, and sets him up as the representative of week kneed pacifists, and then has the big tough high school jocks with the winning football record (or war record in this case) toughen him up with unbelievable amounts of hazing and bullying. Meanwhile he comes to admire their camaraderie, and in the end is made to “see the light” and is able to kill the enemy soldiers with wild rage induced euphoria like God intended. And of course, the crowd goes wild for it all.
I cannot help or defend my nature with movies like this it appears. I grew up on the same movies listed above and had the same damnable reactions to all of them. I even admit to being entertained by the mindless schlock of the aforementioned Rambo movies, so that being said I was able to disconnect from my philosophical problems and appreciate the spectacle of the movie as a whole and watch it as a simplistic depiction of good versus evil, even though the good guys are about as close to evil as it gets on screen. Of course the Nazis were the Nazis though so it doesn’t take much in the way of convincing to make us root for anyone pitted against them. Bullets tear apart bodies, and in the theater the sound of the tank’s big guns made my chest thump in tune with the shelling. For people looking to see yet another rendition of American military pride on display where a select few of the red, white, and blue put down a shellacking on some “evil” foreigners, this is the movie for you.
Hollywood doesn’t seem to make War Movies anymore, as much as they make movies about war. The difference being that war movies used to be as dependable a genre as the western or the mystery thriller. Now they are epic statements on the brutality of man and horrors of combat. This movie has all the familiar elements from those recent movies that have made those kinds of humanistic philosophical statements, but its heart is set with the old War Movies of yesteryear whose only aim is to glorify the combatants, and seemingly, combat itself. Ideals are tough to sell in Hollywood, violence is not.
Fury gets a three out of five: GOOD.