With respect to Socrates, my unexamined life is not worth living. The front room is the face we show everyone but we hide our true self in the back room.
I saw Fury this weekend.
This isn’t a film that particularly cares if their characters are likable. Or cares if the dialogue is clever. Or cares if you don’t laugh one time. Or cares if it has a happy ending.
This isn’t Saving Private Ryan.
This film is about killing. When someone loses one half of their body, collapsing into the mud, faces and arms are being slashed apart by bullets seconds later. Within the first fifteen minutes, the initial shock of the carnage cannot be sustained and we are waist deep in the muck, deep into German territory, trampling over dead bodies with miles to kill before we sleep. Shrapnel tears through bodies like tissue, engulfing their screaming faces with fire or blowing their limbs apart in several directions at once.
The film is about what killing does to us over time. The relentless bloodlust that occurs on the battlefield. So much overkill it won’t let up, won’t stop, and won’t let you take a breath. Both sides with the same mission: Kill as many people as you can.
In Fury, it is this mantra pounded into soldiers’ heads until it’s the only thing. No one is talking about a life back home, a family, or an existence, beyond the subject of death; either through the accumulation of others’ or the avoidance of their own. It is this single-mindedness that has kept one particular unit alive throughout the war.
The film follows a Sherman tank crew led by Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) through the last stage of World War II. His men have seen and committed so many atrocities they are a dead-eyed, numb, battle-weary, killing machine. They are Bible (Shia LaBoeuf), Gordo (Michael Pena) and Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal).
Enter Norman (Logan Lerman). A paper-pushing clerk who hasn’t held a gun since his boot camp training 8 weeks ago. This green soldier has been co-opted into Wardaddy’s unit after they lost their second gunner. It will be a baptism by blood for Norman; first cleaning up his predecessor’s inside the tank and then commanded to shed a German soldier’s in violent spectacle. This scene between Pitt and Lerman reminded me of the scene in Training Day when commanding police detective Denzel Washington orders his subordinate Ethan Hawke to take a hit of marijuana. The sense of peril exceeding his own embarrassment.
Both scenes were written by David Ayer, who also directed Fury. In past films, Ayer has created circumstances where men get together out of necessity. They are not friends and each man is only as good as his utility. In this film, their utilities are identical: kill as many Germans as possible.
Bible, Gordo and Coon-Ass are products of warfare, evidence of mental devastation on their faces. The only way they could be characterized as good is in their ability to defeat their enemy. Outside of combat, these men act as if they are soulless (with the exception of Bible, who gives benedictions before the dead to show he believes in something). In a disturbing scene- actually the whole film is disturbing, but this scene cements the polarizing effect of Norman on his comrades, is when after shelling a village and take in the spoils, Wardaddy and Norman come across two German women in a house and for a few minutes, humanity is restored, only to bring the boorish and malevolent entrance of the rest of Wardaddy’s unit minutes later, reminding us that when you become a killing machine you lose parts of your humanity until there is nothing left. Wardaddy sits conflicted, constantly struggling with what he is fighting for and what he has lost.
Before the film ends a lot more people have to die. For whatever its worth, Ayer stays true to the unforgiving business of death to its climactic final battle. And Norman gets his own nickname.
All of the actors brought a special side of their characters but the most outrageous and entertaining for me was Bernthal as Coon-Ass. I love when actors just go for it, take the role with both hands and sink their teeth in deeply. Bernthal brings the electricity of menace and bravado in every scene.
In Fury, Ayer strikes the balance between stomach-churning and compelling by not reveling in the action but showing the unfair brutality of war. You invest quickly in this film knowing the stakes are high and the odds for survival are slim. You choose to be thrown into this relentlessly grim story while your heart pounds fearful of what lies ahead.
Just like war.