As violent demonstrations roil Hong Kong, a bold group of volunteers is providing moral support and physical protection for young protesters
Perhaps not since Saving Private Ryan has a war film featured such harrowing, realistic scenes of bloodshed as Brad Pitt’s latest, Fury. Yet while the carnage is frequent and unrelenting (along with regular profanity, it earns the film a strong R rating), with the exception of one brief scene, it doesn’t feel gratuitous. This is what wars require, writer/director David Ayer (who served in the U.S. Navy and is the grandson of two decorated World War II officers) seems to be saying. And these are the kind of men required to win them.
The story centers on tank commander Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt) and his embattled crew. They are in the final days of World War II, deep in German territory, in a Sherman tank that is far inferior to the ones they’re up against. They have just lost a long-time brother-in-arms and discover that his replacement is a young typist with no battlefield experience. Outgunned and outnumbered, with no time to train the new recruit, they set out on a crucial mission.
Introducing a rookie into a group of grizzled, been-everywhere-seen-everything veterans is a common war-film setup, but it’s still gripping to watch the green, erudite Norman (Logan Lerman) learn what service and honor are really about. He’s appalled by what he considers Collier’s unethical actions, but that’s because he’s had the luxury of assigning ethics without consequences. “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent,” Collier informs him.
Many tepid mainstream reviews of Fury seem to miss Ayer’s point, which, along with the actual content of the movie, he’s made abundantly clear in interviews. “I drew a lot of parallels between the fanaticism of Nazi Germany and the fanaticism of Al-Qaeda,” he told one outlet. “That was something that I wanted to communicate with people. Even though it was literally a fight of good against evil and it had an incredibly positive outcome, the individual man fighting was just as tired, scared and freaked out as a guy operating a base in Afghanistan.”
Throughout the film Collier and his men joke that being a soldier is “the best job I ever had.” They don’t mean it merely sarcastically, though there is an edge of that in the line. The greater meaning is that it is the best job despite the risk of life and the trauma of taking life because it holds significance. There is a moral purpose in what they do. Though they will bear the physical and psychological scars of their time in the fight for the rest of their lives, the fight is worthy. This is especially evidenced by the character of Boyd “Bible” Swan (played by a phenomenal Shia LaBeouf).
This may go down hard with some readers, but I actually like that the evangelical Boyd drinks, smokes, and swears with the rest of the crew, though he does not join them in soliciting sex or stealing. He is a real, flesh-and-blood proselytizer who sometimes makes light of his Christian persona but never makes light of his Christianity. Yes, at times Boyd’s fleshly fear and grief win out over his reborn spirit (as it would with anyone in his situation), yet his faith is deeper than superficial rule-keeping. When other soldiers are stripping dying German combatants of their valuables, Boyd holds their hands and whispers into their ears, urging them in their last moments to call on the name of Christ and be saved. He offers an affecting image of an unconflicted heart carrying out the duties of country and Creator simultaneously.
The American soldiers of World War II were hard men. Violent men. But they were good men, and we are wrong—childish, even—to think the two things mutually exclusive. Indeed, you can’t help wondering as you watch Fury how long our double-minded American culture will be capable of producing leaders like Sgt. Don Collier. And what will become of us when it isn’t?