If your head explodes, is that still technically decapitation? mused my son, Bullet as we left the cinema.
I suppose if you’re left headless at the end of the incident then yes, technically and factually it’s decapitation, since you are now without your head, whereas before the gruesome event you had a perfectly good working head, complete with jaws, teeth, eyes, brain, ears, nose and possibly a little facial hair.
True, he agreed, as we continued to ponder the experience that was Fury.
You know what I’m wondering?
Why? Why did they make that film?
Good question, said Bullet.
I mean, it’s another standard WW2 movie .
True, agreed Bullet.
With heroic Americans slaughtering ineffectual Nazi troops by the hundred.
Ah now, Father, protested my son. I think you’re being a little hard on it.
He’s right, of course. I was being a little hard on it, but not much. It’s true this was no Kelly’s Heroes, featuring a tank crew of misfits including a wisecracking Telly Savalas clown, led by an anachronistic hippie. Instead, we had a tank crew of misfits with names like “Gordo” Garcia and “Coon-Ass” Travis, led by Brad Pitt playing the same character he revealed to the world in Inglourious Basterds, except that in Fury, he doesn’t play Aldo Raine. His character is called Wardaddy, making him sound like some insane 1940s hip-hop dj, and leaving open the possibility that this was some sort of insider-joke hat-tip to Donald Sutherland’s eponymous hippie. However, that’s probably where comparisons end, since the characters in Kelly’s Heroes are comic-book cartoons whereas the characters in Fury are, well, comic-book cartoons but with an overlay of darkness and an almost complete lack of any moral compass.
For that matter, very few people in this film have any moral standing at all, and maybe that was the point of making it. Maybe, as Leonard Cohen once wrote, there is no decent place to stand in a massacre. Certainly there is a little frisson of realisation that the Yanks in this story are now the invaders, destroying pretty little German villages and towns, ruining the lives of real people because that’s what total war is, and yes, it’s true that they’re burning their way across Germany because Hitler won’t surrender, but on the other hand, who would not fight to the death to repel an invading army?
I did like all the graphic violence, and especially the very satisfying and frequent head-explosions as people are struck by large-calibre lead in the countless firefights that punctuate this movie. And it sounds and looks the way a war movie should look and sound, with lots of deep thudding as heavy machine-guns pound away at the enemy.
The German tanks are positively terrifying, not to mention almost invincible, and the sound department have come up with a truly intimidating scream as the high-velocity 88mm cannon rounds whang past the American tanks like giant, evil, armour-clad, explosive wasps. The Americans, on the other hand, have M4s, or as the Brits called them, Shermans. The film is careful to point out at the start in Courier typeface so you’ll know this was a long time ago, that Shermans were no match for the German tanks, but at least Brad has a Firefly, which was a Sherman fitted with a heavy cannon for destroying those pesky Krauts.
I must say I liked the thoughtful way David Ayer, the director, decided to include tracer rounds, even in daylight. It certainly grabs your attention when you can actually see the stream of bullets, and in a way it must be an acknowledgement that for years now, we’ve become used to seeing intergalactic armies fighting each other with laser cannons, so that an invisible hail of bullets becomes an anti-climax. Apart from the lethal whizz, obviously, and the exploding heads, and the shattered limbs, and so on and so forth unto total horror.
There’s lots to like about Fury. I could have done without the get-outta-here-ya-big-galoot schmaltz in some of the scenes, but on the other hand, it’s a compelling depiction of men hollowed-out morally, desensitised to human suffering or even to human feeling after unremitting exposure to three years of war. This is a firm step away from the traditional narrative of kindly GIs handing out chocolate bars and nylon stockings to the grateful kinder and Fräuleins. These Americans are brutes who shoot prisoners in cold blood and treat the women of the conquered country like dirt. Their objective is to defeat Hitler, and in doing so, they loot, they murder, they destroy and they move on, leaving behind a huddled population of terrified victims, but the screenplay tries too hard to make Brad Pitt the living embodiment of all these conflicting tendencies.
This is Aldo Raine with an education. He’s a cold-blooded killer. He’s a selfless hero. He’s a thug. He’s a gentle soul who loves animals. He’s a linguist. He’s a bible scholar. He’s a respecter of women. For me, at least, it doesn’t work.
Naturally, Brad gratuitously gets his kit off at some point in the movie, perhaps to prove that there’s life after 50.
You know, says Bullet, if I looked like that, I’d never wear a shirt.
But somehow, Brad’s face seems to have grown bigger. He just has a lot more face than he used to in, for example, Legends of the Fall. Lots and lots of face. Oh well, I suppose he needs it for all those battle scars and worry lines.
Verdict? I was never bored. For much of the film, I was gripped by the tension of battle. The combat scenes are downright scary, though in a different way to Private Ryan or Band of Brothers, since Ayer didn’t opt for the 24-feet-per-second cinema verité sepia graininess that characterised the battle scenes in both of those, preferring to go for visceral impact with the subliminal thud of heavy weapons fire, the tracer-lit whizz of high-velocity projectiles and of course the unheadings. Lots and lots of unheadings and dismemberments, but remember, these aren’t real people. Just a few dummies and some illegal immigrants..
Yes, I liked it, but not to the extent that I’d hoped for. I won’t be raving about it to my friends, but as a good solid action thriller it’s worth going along for a look and anyway, who doesn’t like a film with real tanks in it? Well, maybe the Germans, for a start. I think if I happened to be German, I might find myself becoming a little sick of seeing yet another war movie showing how the Yanks smashed my country to rubble.
And yes, I know all about that Nie Wieder stuff, but this isn’t a movie about the Holocaust. This is just a film about World War 2.
Maybe it’s time to say, enough already?