30 October 2014

Fury offers a fresh spin on a tired genre

Set near the end of the Second World War, Fury follows a close-knit tank crew and their new member, Norman Ellison, as they continue the advance into Germany under the command of Don 'Wardaddy' Collier in the eponymous tank 'Fury'.

It's the first film set during the Second World War that I've seen in a long time, and considering the vast wealth of films that have exhausted this period, Fury actually has a fair amount of originality to it. The time frame of the end of the war, when the Allies where guaranteed victory and the fighting from the Axis was more desperate, gives the film a much different feel to other war films in that regard - there is a much greater sense of desperation from both sides, tired from a war, with any kind of organisation of troops lost as things got more chaotic - and that only works in Fury's favour.

Fury's focus on the crews that maintained and operated tanks is an aspect of the Second World War that I don't believe has been explored in this much detail before. It's interesting to see the war from this point of view, and the confines of the tank give Fury a very claustrophobic feel - a large portion of the film is shot from inside this small, cramped, dirty, battle damaged machine, and it helps give the audience that same sense of being trapped that the crew of the tanks go through. This feeling is only intensified when the tanks are in danger - we get multiple instances of tanks being destroyed throughout this film, usually accompanied by flaming soldiers trying to flee the confines of the tank. It's a horrible image, one that helps up the stakes when the crew of 'Fury' are in danger later on.

The majority of the main characters are interesting enough, and mostly well acted - Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman all give great performances as their respective characters, each of them handling the war in different ways as the film progresses. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal - Peña's character is mostly redundant throughout, and Bernthal plays his character far to large for the film - he comes off as a caricature of the monster that war can make of a man, and his character gets tiring very quickly. There is a seen towards the end that tries to humanise him, but it's laughably poor, and fails to elicit any kind of empathy with the character.

Norman is an interesting character, but his arc throughout the film feels rushed and poorly handled. Fury appears to be set over a reasonably short amount of time, but we see this nervous, weak willed, morally-just typist turn into a merciless, hardened war criminal in about an hour of screen time, and what feels like no more than a day or two in film. The speed of the transformation robs a lot of the impact of the transformation - when you can see a character go from refusing to shoot a German soldier at gun point to mowing down Nazi's while screaming at them in just one scene, any believability that this character had built up is nearly instantly tore down. The rest of the crew talk about the tank being the best job they ever had, and Norman repeats this mantra, despite having seemingly only been in the tank for an afternoon. The idea that war changes a man has been done many times before, but often not in this obvious a way.

The third act of Fury takes something away from the film, but in a very different way. We are treated to several really great scenes of tank battles before this point, all of them feeling dangerous, brutal and merciless. But the finale drags on for what feels like at least half an hour, and loses the believability and intensity of the earlier tank battles, instead beginning to feel more like a standard action film, or a segment from a Call of Duty game. It's a real shame that the ending of Fury is so far removed from the rest of the film - up until now, it was never scared to show the horrors of war, with shots of crushed, muddy corpses being ran over by tanks, scenes where soldiers inflict their own grey morality on others for fun - and yet the final battle avoids inflicting this same brutality on the main characters, again robbing this deciding battle of the impact it deserves.

Fury does a lot of things right, which makes it all the more frustrating when it does something wrong. The best bits of the film end up pointing out the worst bits - the well written characters end up highlighting the poorly written characters, the earlier, great tank scenes shine a light on the flaws of the last, the restraint throughout underlining the lack of restraint during the finale. I'm not really sure if it's a great film let down in some areas or just an OK film elevated by some great scenes, but it's certainly an interesting film, and one that's worth seeing, if not one that you'll be craving to re-watch.

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