2014, COLUMBIA PICTURES
In the WWII movie about a Sherman tank called “Fury”, writer/director David Ayer said he wanted to make “the ultimate tank movie…. It’s a great opportunity to take a group of guys, put ’em in this claustrophobic environment, and see how they work together as a team.”
Well, I saw the movie and it’s hard to express my disappointment in words. Ayer’s ignorance of history and tank warfare are exceeded only by his ignorance of human nature. The main plot is the “baptism by fire” of the green replacement Norman, who was trained as a typist, as he takes the place of the previous bow gunner, whose body parts were still on the tank floor.
Instead of a baptism by fire in which the innocent learns how to become a member of a team and learns survival skills, Norman has to lose his soul in order to become a member of pack of undisciplined animals. This rabble, with improbable nicknames like “Coon-Ass,” are not team players with the possible exception of the final group death scene. They are mainly concerned with self-enrichment by looting German corpses and houses for souvenirs (a death sentence if captured) and booze. They have little respect for their commander, Sgt. WarDaddy (Brad Pitt), their German opponents, or themselves, and it is impossible to like any of them. In this movie you learn that you have to execute helpless German prisoners and rape German women in order to become what, a man? No, a psychopathic animal. The interactions among the crew are incessant poking and bullying, alternating with unintelligible, boring, dialogue about sex and religion.
Hollywood movies usually need some sex. When Sgt. WarDaddy and Norman knock down the front door to an apartment holding two German woman, one older, one nubile and virginal (Emma), at first the women are horrified. Later, after WarDaddy produces a half-dozen fresh eggs, and Norman plays the piano, the women get more relaxed. Emma is so entranced by Norman’s piano playing that incredibly she breaks into song. When Emma and Norman excuse themselves and go into the bedroom, the writer makes the ensuing rape seem almost consensual. Emma comes out with a smile on her face. After a hearty sit-down dinner of fried eggs, just like a family, except for the uninvited extra three sex-crazed crew members who were expecting sloppy seconds, the crew moved on to their next battle. The only thing that made Emma cry was when one of the retarded crew members deliberately slobbered all over her fried egg. When Norman and Emma parted, the crew wouldn’t let them exchange addresses so they could become Pen Pals. Nomatter, Emma was predictably killed when her house was blown up a few minutes later.
There are two exciting tank battle scenes that got my full attention and showed some of the inner workings of a tank and its crew, sometimes working with armored infantry. The special effects included colored tracers on the main tank shells (not sure how realistic), but anyway the battle sound effects were excellent. However, the tank could have felt more confined, the roar of the engine was more like the purr of a kitten, and the battle strategies and situations were highly improbable. The subtitles told how superior German tanks were defeating American tanks, then goes on to show the tank Fury successfully attacking over an open field and destroying a bunch of German tanks, including a Tiger tank, dug in and concealed in the woods. In WWII, tank battles were normally from hundreds to thousands of yards distant. Fury engages a German Tiger tank in an open field dancing a minuet less than 25 yards apart, where they circle like fighter planes in a dogfight. At that distance the American 76 mm gun could potentially have killed the Tiger in its 100 mm thick front armor, saving all those gyrations to get behind it. (Anyway, what are the odds of running into massed German armor in April, 1945, the final weeks of the war, including the gas-guzzling German Tiger tank?)
The climactic scene is where Fury gets a track knocked off by a mine in a road to be used by an advancing German company, said without evidence to be SS troops by Sgt. WarDaddy. WarDaddy, in his hubris, decides to stay in the disabled Sherman tank and take on the 300 reported SS troops, who have no tanks, but some half-tracks and plenty of Panzerfausts (the very effective single-shot anti-tank RPGs). (What are the odds of finding a fresh company of singing German troops advancing towards the front in April, 1945?) Instead of intelligently escaping into the nearby woods, Sgt. WarDaddy stays and fights because he stubbornly wants to protect the road intersection and because the tank is “his home.” The other crew members are shamed into joining WarDaddy in this insanely suicidal and pointless decision. Yes, they are all killed, as you would expect, with the exception of Norman, who survives only by the grace of a young SS officer who knowingly leaves him alone in the mud under the tank.
A big problem is the mission of these five Sherman tanks (and no infantry, artillery, or air support), which was supposed to be to secure a particular road intersection. When four of the tanks got killed, the task was left to one tank. Is this an appropriate use of a tank, and was this chore inspiring enough to die for? Clearly, No on both counts. The Germans should and would have bypassed the Sherman tank lying disabled smack in the middle of the intersection.
But the length of time it takes to defeat Fury is beyond belief. The scene changes instantly from day to night. The Germans have a dozen Panzerfausts. All they need is to hit the Sherman once, and Bingo, the “Ronson lighter” should have been lit. The one Panzerfaust that hits the tank only kills one American instead of the usual incineration of the entire crew, as happened earlier in the film. The normally well-disciplined and highly motivated SS troopers run around the tank like headless chickens, getting blown up by grenades and machine gun fire. Some of them crowd into a nearby building used as a first aid station where they are conveniently killed by repeated blasts of the tank’s cannon. The Germans keep firing futilely at the tank with machine guns.
Eventually the Americans are out of ammo for the main gun and have to come topside on the tank. Sgt. WarDaddy, who doesn’t even wear his leather helmet, fires the .50 caliber machine gun standing on the tank completely exposed for about five minutes without a scratch, using up more of his own lives than a cat. Finally he is dispatched by, of all things, a sniper, and falls back into the tank. For good measure, the Germans drop in two exploding potato masher grenades, while Norman somehow has time to slither through the bottom hatch into the mud. The next morning, Norman re-enters the tank, finding Sgt. WarDaddy’s perfectly preserved body (not a scratch from the grenades), hugs him, and to cover WarDaddy’s head, donates his own jacket (one that he would have needed had he not been rescued in the tank by oncoming American soldiers).
Brad Pitt, although there were probably no tank commanders in WWII as old as him at 50, did a creditable job portraying a tough, slightly deranged, battle-weary soldier. All the other actors did pretty well what they were given to do — pretty meager stuff with the exception of Norman, who had an appreciable character trajectory. The major failure had to be the writing and directing of David Ayer, who, for one thing, tackled a subject way out of his depth. War may be Hell, but it doesn’t have to be aggravated by stupid characters making stupid decisions. FURY was technically strong, and could have been a great movie if only they’d had a story (such as our “Patton’s Secret Mission”).
Jim Sudmeier Oct. 26, 2014
The film grossed $85.8 million in North America and $126 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $211.8 million, against a budget of $68 million. FURY was released on October 17, 2014, in North America across 3,173 theaters.