Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

27 October 2014

Fury

Fury. It's awesome. I absolutely loved it. First of all, I love Brad Pitt, so watching him be in charge of a WWII tank was already a sell for me. He is great in this, his lined, pained face showing years of struggle. In fact, I think this is the main thing that I liked about this movie. Fury is about a tank crew that has seen a lot of terrible things. This crew has been in the war since the beginning of U.S. involvement, and they have done and seen terrible, awful things. Fury doesn't try to upsell the war, to tell us that wars are won by men building computers in England or by spies stealing secrets from wealthy ammunition salesmen. And Fury doesn't pretend that wars are about ideals or freedom or democracy or even revenge (as our government would have us believe). War, in Fury, is about what Elaine Scarry says it is about in The Body in Pain, viz. people in a contest of killing. The winner is the person who kills the most people or has convinced the other person, by virtue of having killed a lot of people, to stop trying to kill him. A contest of murder. That's the set-up here.

Fury is not a rah-rah-America movie or even a rabid anti-Nazi movie, both of which would have been much easier for David Ayer to make; this is a muddy, bloody, usually drunken mess.

The plot, such as it is, follows a young typist who is ordered to join a tank squadron made up of four men who have been together since the beginning of American involvement in the war and have just lost one member of their crew. Logan Lerman plays the young recruit and the other actors in the tank are Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal. Jason Isaacs, Anamaria Marinca, and Xavier Samuel are also in the cast.

Mr. LaBeouf
Fury is an action movie, but in a lot of ways it feels like an old-fashioned WWII picture. This is probably due to the tank in which the crew spends the entire film. This was not a tech-savvy, exciting war for the men in Fury. It was a difficult, disgusting, awkward dogfight in a bulky, stultifying metal box on wheels. Critics have said that the movie is too brutal, too graphic, but all of it seemed quite responsible to me.

The revelation to my mind is the acting. Shia LaBeouf is absolutely fantastic. Let me just say that again: the guy from Transformers and its absurd, ridiculous sequels is great in this film. Logan Lerman, who I have only seen in nonsensical roles, was also great in this. In fact, the film is filled with excellent performances, including a near-silent turn by Romanian actress Anamaria Marinca (from 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). The men look exhausted throughout, and the camera spends a great deal of time looking at them, examining their faces. One sees in their eyes a kind of tired, resigned horror. It's incredibly powerful.

(As for Oscar chances, I don't think Fury can do very well. It's too anti-war, too violent, too conflicted about the violence it portrays. Sound categories, perhaps? And maybe also one other below-the-line category. This is just not the kind of thing Oscar voters want to see. Not uplifting enough.)

**
I actually recently saw a 1936 film called Fury with Sylvia Sidney and Spencer Tracy. He's a nice man who becomes the victim of a lynch-mob somewhere in the North. He is burned alive by the mob or at least almost burned alive. But he lives and then he seeks revenge against the men who unjustly tried to murder him. The film is notable for a few strange reasons. It uses video footage as evidence in the trial – the murderers are actually caught on video lynching him. It also was Fritz Lang's first U.S. film, and a big departure for Metro, which got into the gritty crime-film business with Fury. (The wikipedia page has lots of other trivia, too.) The other thing that is curious is that the film is about lynching, but of course there are only white people in the film. Fritz Lang made a movie about lynching in the United States, but he didn't set that film in the South and he didn't make it about the lynchings of black men. It's a pretty interesting picture.