Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fury [2014]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  ChicagoTribune (2 1/2 Stars)  RE.com (2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review
RE.com (P. Sobczynski) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky ) review

Perhaps the most important thing for the Viewer to appreciate coming into a WW II "war movie" like Fury [2014] (written and directed by David Ayer) is to understand that "war movies" are often _not_ intended to be documentaries or even "sweeping historical dramas" in the sense of Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace (1869) or Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind (1936).  Instead, they are often intended to be "morality tales" (and or "lack of morality tales") and/or allegories with much more in common with Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick (1851) than either of the two above mentioned "historical epics."

 So it is with the current film, in which Ayer borrows heavily conceptually from his previous police drama Training Day [2001].  That film too, though very much acclaimed (earning actor Denzel Washington an Oscar and his costar Ethan Hawke an Oscar nomination) and set in a very concrete time and place -- the Los Angeles Police Department of the current day -- DID NOT SEEK (AT ALL) to be tied to any particular reported-upon event in history.  Instead, Training Day [2001], again, like Melvile's Moby Dick (1851) was above all an allegory / morality tale.  And so it is then with the current film, Fury [2014], about a American tank crew, set nominally "in Germany during the closing stages of World War II" ...     

The story of Fury [2014] like that of Training Day [2001] is most fundamentally the story of a mentor/master, the tank's commander Don 'Wardaddy' Collier (played by Brad Pitt) seeking to quickly teach "green as can be" Norman Ellison (played by Logan Lerman) how to fight (and not get the rest of them killed.

Norman was sent to Don (and the rest of his crew) as their replacement "assistant tank driver" after the previous one was killed in the previous day's / night's action.  Don had been proud that he's kept his crew -- Boyd 'Bible' Swan (played by Shia LaBeauf), Trini 'Gordo' Garcia (played by Michael Peña) and Grady 'Coon-Ass' Travis (played by Jon Bernthal) -- alive until this point.  The obvious "greenness" of Norman scared them all. 

The understandable need to _quickly_ bring the "I was trained to be in the typing pool" Norman up-to-speed drives the film ... and drives much of the (IMHO legitimate) criticism of the film: 

There's an unforgettably searing scene in which Don -- who's just watched Norman NOT shoot at a German soldier carrying a panzerfraust (a rocket propelled anti-tank weapon) resulting in the deaths of four Americans in the tank in front of them -- pulling out a German prisoner of war from those captured at the end of that exchange AND ORDERING NORMAN TO SHOOT HIM RIGHT THEN AND THERE with his side arm.  (To prove to him and his crew that he's capable of killing Germans ...). 

Would THAT be a War Crime?  (Yes).  A historically accurate situation?  (Honestly, who knows?  But it's one which IMMEDIATELY OFFENDS the sensibilities of perhaps MILLIONS of viewers WHO KNOW THAT THE GERMAN SS ROUTINELY SHOT HUNDREDS, EVEN THOUSANDS CIVILIANS ALL ACROSS EUROPE (France, Italy, Poland, Greece, the Czech Republic, the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union) IN REPRISAL FOR PARTISAN ATTACKS and here this scene arguably draws a "moral equivalence" to those Mass Slaughters by the SS).  BUT AT THE BUDDY-MORALITY-TALE LEVEL OF THE FILM, can one understand?  (Probably yes as well).

There's a later scene in which the Americans take a German town, and Wardaddy Don takes Norman up into an apartment where they find two young women (played with appropriate levels of terror and apprehension by Anamaria Marinca and Alicia von Rittberg) and offers the younger one to the "virginal/newbie" Norman.  Was this AGAIN an awful scene?  (Yes).  Was it again a War Crime?  (Today, certainly yes).  Does it offend?  (Again, yes, especially when one realizes while this almost certainly happened on the Western front as well, THE SOVIET ARMY SYSTEMATICALLY RAPED MILLIONS OF GERMAN WOMEN THAT THEY ENCOUNTERED IN THE CLOSING STAGES OF THE WAR AND IN ITS IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH).   But was it realistic and even "instructive" in the story?  (Again, probably grudgingly yes).

So what then to make a film like this, which is nominally "historical" but is certainly above all SITUATIONAL?  I suppose it is a film that presents a situation to the viewer and asks: What would you do?

But I would submit that a fair question could be asked: Could the film-maker have chosen a "better" historical situation in which to set the film that would not produce the immediate reaction of "wait a minute, the SS shot all kinds of prisoners ALL THE TIME and here you're depicting an American doing so under very contrived, plot-driven circumstances?" or "WAIT A MINUTE, the SOVIET ARMY SYSTEMATICALLY THE GERMAN WOMEN THEY MET and here you're portraying American soldiers doing so again under very contrived, plot-driven circumstances?"  Would it not have served the story better if the film had been set during the Korean or Vietnam Conflicts or even "in the Pacific" during WW II?  In those conflicts / theaters, the actions depicted by American soldiers would have arguably (and unfortunately) would have depicted reality far more closely than here.

It's something to think about.  And in any case, I found this to be a very difficult film to watch.

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