AROUND THIS time of year we get our first look at the Oscar contenders. While the heavy hitters tend to emerge at the end of December and January, sometimes more genre based releases, like Gravity last year, are released a few weeks early.
World War II movies tend to fare well in the awards season. Straightforward good guys v bad guys make for an easy narrative and, as Kate Winslet says in Extras, “I’m doing it because I’ve noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust - guaranteed Oscar”. In Fury we get Brad Pitts’ effort.
Pitt is basically his character from Inglorious Basterds but without the one liners and Ian Madigan hair cut. He plays Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier, a tank commander who has been fighting Nazis in North Africa, France, Belgium, and now Germany. Although the war is approaching it’s final stage, Collier knows “a lot of people are still going to have to die”.
His crew of five war weary tank operators have recently suffered a casualty and must welcome a new young private to their tight knit group. The clichés come hard and fast so you must ignore some incredibly dubious military strategy and rather naff dialogue to enjoy this film.
Director David Ayer has a patchy CV, although his first hit Training Day was a huge success - finally landing Denzel Washington the Oscar he deserved. Since then he has been unambitious, with career ‘highlights’ including writing a Fast and Furious screenplay and directing the genuinely terrible, ‘so bad it’s brilliant’, SWAT with Colin Farrell. However in 2012, Ayer wrote and directed End Of Watch, a brilliantly smart, small budget, movie about two cops in LA. It was a real return to form and gave reason to get excited about Ayer’s career again.
Where Fury gets it right is the complex relationships among the five soldiers. They are very different men of mixed backgrounds and ethnicities but their bond is strong and real. Ayer has a gift of writing male relationships that do not sound forced or cheesy, their conversations ring true and you really believe they care for each other. They all have glaring flaws, including the father like Collier. Unlike many WWII movies, no soldier is wholly good and no one is wholly evil.
The rest of the cast, led by Logan Lerman as the desk clerk turned machine gun operator, is solid. By far the best performance after Pitt is by Shia Labeouf. His real world antics have soured audiences to him but he has always been a good actor. Michael Pena does what he can with a pretty thin role.
There is an extremely troubling scene with two German women which does not work. It seems too unbelievable and goes on for far too long. Ayer proves here, as he has in the past, that he simply cannot write for women as convincingly as he can for men.
Fury dispels the moniker “the good war”. Ayer is certainly trying to channel his inner Sam Peckinpah, the action scenes here are visceral and extremely violent. The march across Europe has been devastating to the inhabitants and the soldiers themselves. Everyone looks exhausted and so do the towns they drive through and the tanks they ride.
‘War is hell’ as they say, and it seems to have turned Europe into just that. Fury is a tough watch but does have some really strong moments. It will not be troubling any of the other Oscar contenders but a good war film always finds a audience.