Monday, November 10, 2014

Movie Review: Fury

Too long have I lived
among those who hate peace.
I am for peace;
but when I speak, they are for war.

(Psalm 120:6-7)

The young Norman (Logan Lerman) could have penned the latter verse of the above psalm. He hasn't been in enough battles to write the former line. As the new soldier assigned to join a US tank squad hardened by the horrors of three years of battles, Norman (read: "normal man") is naive and frightened about the realities of war. He signed up for this military gig, but he doesn't really want to kill anybody.

Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt) could also have written the psalmist's line, only his words would hold a bit more weight than Norman's. The leader of the "Fury" tank squad, Don has been to hell, but he hasn't been back yet. He sees Norman's inability to kill, and knows this inability will get their entire team killed if something doesn't change, and quick. Don is neither naive nor frightened any more; war is hell, and one has to sacrifice a portion of one's humanity and ideals in order to survive.

Don and Norman's paradigms collide with Norman's inability to kill leads to the death of another tank commander. He doesn't pull the trigger, and a US solider dies a horrible death. Don pulls Norman aside, shoves a gun into his hand, and brutally forces him to shoot a captured Nazi soldier in the back. Don doesn't need anyone on his team who can't kill Nazis; that will lead to a dead tank unit, something Don isn't willing to let happen. After all, they're in this war for one purpose: "We’re not here for right and wrong; we’re here to kill Krauts."

Fury is a grim study of the effects of war on ordinary men in April 1945. Wardaddy's team is an eclectic bunch united by their shared experience of living inside a metal gun for three years in World War II. Akin to most diverse filmic teams--there's the mean brute, the kind-hearted Christian, the wise-cracking minority, the scared new recruit, and the revered steely leader--the tank unit commands the titular tank with grit and duty. "Best job in the world," they say with irony. What job is that? "Killing the g*dd*mn Nazis." Don embodies these contradictions with his stoic charm. He certainly cares for his unit while also remaining aloof; he's their "war daddy" after all. He knows what needs to get done in this war and is willing to kill Nazis with seeming indifference, yet breaks down into tears when he is alone, overwhelmed by the weight he carries. He berates the religious soldier of his unit--"do you think Jesus loves Hitler?" he asks with a smirk--yet is later finishing that soldier's biblical quote from Isaiah 6 as they enter into a standoff where survival is unlikely. "Ideals are peaceful. History is violent," Don says to Norman in a brief moment of rest. Yet we are unsure if he truly believes this, or whether it's a phrase he tells himself to stay alive in this depraved reality.

Fury is not an anti-war film, but it's also not a pro-war film. Akin to The Hurt Locker, it is a film exploring the effects of war on the human spirit, both how war arises from and fosters human depravity. Neither Don or Norman are really "right" in their evaluation of the situation. This is not liberal pacifism, though Fury does show us the power of compassion and the choice to avoid violence for the sake of saving life. It's also not a blanket celebration of military power--these are ordinary men pushed into extraordinary circumstances, forced to the brink of insanity in order to stay alive and accomplish the mission. This is not a celebration of the Greatest Generation; this is a mud-and-blood-and-sh*t story. It is entirely appropriate that the whole film has the tone and quality of a muddy grey, washed out and dirt-speckled. This is a grim and brutal story, violent and bleak. I left the theatre feeling an absence of hope, yet appreciating the willingness of ordinary men to enter into the fray. Perhaps its appropriate to write this review on Remembrance Day weekend, these few days intended for us to recall both the horrors of war and the bravery of the soldiers who fought in those horrors.

Jesus once said, "blessed are the peacemakers." I believe him. I think Don would quietly agree.

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