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Front Page - Friday, October 24, 2014

‘Fury’ all sound, signifies nothing new

The Critic's Corner

David Laprad

When “Fury” was over, I went outside, took a deep breath, and stood motionless in the quiet of the night. I was glad to be out of the theater – away from the bombardment of anti-tank shells, automatic weapons, and inhumanity. I needed the breeze to wash off the stench of what men to do each other in wartime; I needed to remind myself I’d been a passive viewer of the carnage, not an active participant; and I needed to rekindle my faith in mankind.

There is nothing – NOTHING – in “Fury” to suggest there is any good in this world. Set during the waning days of World War II, it follows five men who have made the inside of a Sherman tank their home as they rolled across Africa into Germany, leaving countless bodies and piles of rubble in their wake. The violence is relentless, brutal, and unblind. If you recoil at the sight of humans being reduced to a pulpy mess, “Fury” is not for you.

Battle-hardened sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier leads the men. Played with dead-eyed stoicism by Brad Pitt, he says things like, “This war will end soon, but before it does, a lot more people have to die,” and, “Ideals are peaceful; war is violent.” The only thing missing is a cigar for Pitt to chomp. Although a pastiche of every war weary leader who’s graced the silver screen, Wardaddy is the kind of soldier you’d want in command if you were trapped in a tank behind enemy lines.

A rookie gunner named Norman finds himself in such a position. Played by Logan Lerman, Norman was trained to type, not kill Nazis, making him something of a project for Wardaddy. Although “Fury” is unpleasant and nihilistic, Lerman is among its saving graces. After starring in the two Percy Jackson films, his performance in “Fury” is a revelation. War changes Norman, and “Fury” changed my opinion of Lerman. I’m anticipating great things from him moving forward.

The rest of the core cast does excellent work, too, including Shia LaBeouf as Boyd “Bible” Swan,” Michael Peña as Trini “Gordo” Garcia, and especially Jon Bernthal (Shane on “The Walking Dead”) as Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis. Although their characters were lifted from dozens of other war movies, their performances elevate the material and bring these men to life.

The direction by David Ayer, however, is uneven. There are moments of considerable power, including an early scene in which Wardaddy forces Norman to shoot a captured German soldier. “You’re no good to me unless you can kill Krauts,” he says to Norman as the prisoner pulls a picture of his family from his breast pocket and pleads for his life. A sequence in which Wardaddy leads five American tanks against a single, more heavily armed and armored German tank is well choreographed and tense (which is no small accomplishment considering how slowly the tanks move). Also good is a scene in which Wardaddy finds a pair of young German women hiding in a battered apartment, and invites Norman to join them in a meal of eggs and potatoes. (At the urging of Wardaddy, Norman partakes of more than food with the youngest lady.) When the other men find them, they grow resentful and things get messy. There is no refuge in war.

But a skirmish late in the film throws battle logic out the window as German SS run headlong at automatic gunfire. Until then, “Fury” felt like a realistic depiction of war; afterward, it seemed like just another a silly action movie.

Despite a stellar cast, strong performances, and a few memorable scenes, “Fury” doesn’t add up to much. It offers stock characters and, as a whole, treads familiar ground. I also wonder if viewers will feel it was worth the journey, considering how it ends. I did not. I was merely glad to go outside, take a deep breath, and stand motionless in the quiet of the night.

Two-and-a-half stars out of four. Rated R for war violence, grisly images, and language. David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at dlaprad@hamiltoncountyherald.com.