Sunday, November 23, 2014

Brief thoughts on Fury.

Brad Pitt must really love to kill Nazis.

When it went into wide release a month ago, Fury was one of the year’s most surprising hits. Directed by David Ayer of Training Day and End of Watch fame, and headlined by megastar Brad Pitt, it garnered much acclaim and box office success. A film that takes inspiration from and emulates numerous films, most notably Saving Private Ryan, the film attempts to strike a balance between a visceral action thriller and brothers-in-arms drama. However, in its attempts at doing so, the final product is a bigger misfire than the tracker shell bullets in the film.

The comparisons to Saving Private Ryan are immediate, and frequent, with the film largely focusing on a small group of soldiers bound together like a family, long stretches of the film in somber silence with wisecracks, one of the biggest stars on the planet headlining as the team’s noble leader, visceral and bloody action, a stirring climax against overwhelming enemy forces, and DP Roman Vasyanov even recreates Janusz Kaminski’s color schemes and camera techniques. Clearly Ayer has a great respect for Spielberg’s classic war film, but it feels less like paying homage, and more like a pale imitation.

The first and foremost reason is because of the writing and tone. While Private Ryan’s characters may not have been all that unique or complex, Fury’s characters are played up to almost cartoonish lengths at some points. Their identities are not new or interesting. There’s the God-fearing man, the silly wisecracker (Honestly, Michael Pena’s character feels so out of place), and the antagonistic douchebag. The morals of the film are played up to hammered in lengths, its treatment of the only two female characters (even in the context of the time period) is utterly insensitive, and the comedy largely feels stale, and completely out of place. Whereas Private Ryan’s comedic moments were much more sparing and purposeful, the comedy here made me slap my forehead as it foiled artfully conceived gravity. I know the intention is to show how cynical and jaded the soldiers have become, but it’s not the best idea to make so many wisecracks when hungry people and dead bodies surround our team of leads. Also, where Private Ryan uses its violence to visceral and thought provoking effect, this film uses it in a nonchalantly glorifying way.

However, if any of this has made you think that I hate the film, I surprisingly don’t. In fact, despite what shortcomings it may contain, there are just as many things to admire. For one thing, it’s a gorgeously designed film, with the gorgeous photography highlighting the excellent sets and costumes, the action scenes have a legitimate entertainment and thrill value to them (especially because of the most welcome practical effects), and the sound work is so good that designer Paul Ottosson, plain and simple, deserves an Academy award for Best Sound Editing. I can’t put it any more succinctly than that.

On top of that, the film is also extremely well acted, with Pitt being joined by Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Logan Lerman, and Jon Bernthal. While their actual characters are nothing to write home about, the five of them share an effortless chemistry with each other, and have a sincere camaraderie that only gets stronger and more engaging as the film progresses. Even though I’m not a fan of the film as a whole, it also ends on a well paced climax, and a fitting closing shot. If only the rest of the film could say it had the same virtues...

**1/2 / *****

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