For a movie that’s two and a half hours long, Fury fairly zips by. It’s not always evenly paced and there are slow sections, but I was surprised at how fast the time had passed when the end credits rolled.
Perhaps part of the reason for this is that the film jumps straight into the heart of the story – and stays there. There are few distractions or deviations from the man storyline – Brad Pitt and his tank crew (Shia LeBeouf, Michael Pena, John Bernthal) show a new recruit the ropes as they fight some of last battles of the European war in Germany, April 1945.
Some reviews have called this an old fashioned straight-up war film, but that it is not. Or at least not all of the time.
Long stretches, most of the movie, actually is action – Fury and her crew against Nazi tanks, infantry, mines, and panzerfausts.
Other sections though are closer, almost, to scenes from a stage play – mannered, studied, carefully posed and presented, slow, heavy-handed, coarse even crude. They work against the rest of the movie’s attempts to depict the reality of the war alongside the banality of the warriors, and vice versa. Some of these central scenes undermine the essential ‘ordinariness’ of conscript soldiers that is crucial to the storyline – desperate times and situations wreak havoc on peacetime people and behaviour, this we know and have seen from a long litany of recent movies.
Lingering on an exaggerated if not bizarre vision of this well known idea does nothing for the audience, except perhaps to alienate them from the protagonists. The numerous, varied and prolonged horrors of war turn many people into human wrecks of course, but not always freakish outlandish over-the-top monsters as is sometimes the case here; the result is that when later in the film we might be expected to care about these characters, we really don’t. Internal, silent, unseen but hinted at damage can be more powerful than in-your-face grotesquery.
This seeming compulsion to sledgehammer and telegraph rather than adopt nuance and allusion, the triumph of unabashed spotlighting over subtlety, crops up throughout the movie, as if the creators were unsure how much of their message was making it into the viewers consciousness – or maybe they doubted whether their viewers might actually have consciousness. The answers seems to be slap them in the face with a giant can of ‘Did you see what we did there!!’ at frequent intervals.
It revels in its more brutal moments and seems to make special effort to make sure that no one misses the point – almost to such an extent that feels like showing off, ‘look at how much gory gritty reality we could ladle into these scenes’. Or it’s a lack of confidence. Maybe a better approach would be to trust yourself, your idea and not least your audience – if it’s visceral, we’ll notice, it’s not necessary to flag everything as if the audience may be either dimwits or not fully human.
When the film stops treating it’s viewers like they have a lower IQ than the popcorn they’re munching on, it gets a lot of things right.
Foremost, whoever came up with the idea of using tracer rounds so extensively in the battle scenes deserves extra special mention. In a way this is sledgehammering the viewer again, but this time it works. I don’t know if it bears any similarity to reality but it is astoundingly effective. Trajectories of bullets and shells blaze through the sky in vicious flashes of red and green, striking and ricocheting with blinding speed and cacophonous racket. Between the light, the sounds and the rapidity, the viewer’s senses are thoroughly assaulted and set on edge, giving a visceral experience quite unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The shock, disorientation and sheer inability of the human brain to make sense of such situations is powerfully conveyed. Luck and the awful randomness at work are also highlighted, a millimetre here or there making all the difference, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what you’ve done, moral, immoral, black, white, tall, short, good, bad or indifferent – a split second and you’re dead. Those in the firing line have no means of controlling or effecting what happens. Nor can they do much to help or protect their comrades. This sense of utter helplessness and powerlessness adds the greatest sense of terror – death and injury stalk the combatants impersonally, and there’s no rhyme or reason to who dies, and no way to avoid or influence it.
Despite the frankly ludicrous Bible bilge that crops up at intervals to annoy and distract, the main terror we see are people in a horrendous situation that they have absolutely no power to influence and no way to escape other than it seems through death.
All told overall, Fury is worth the investment of time and money by the viewer. It has some interesting things to say but not as many as it thinks, and its strongest element by far is its truly excellent and innovative battle scenes, which go further to show war as hell than all of the words of the script.