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Friday, January 30, 2015

Fury

An successful mix of sub-Spielberg war action with sub-Tarantino talkiness doesn't quite manage to overshadow the modest pleasures of David Ayer's latest.

This review is also up at Channel 24

What it's about

In the final days of World War II, Hitler has called on all German men, women and children to fight the allied invaders and within that setting Fury tells the story of a ragtag tank crew led by the tough-as-nails but war-worn Sgt. Don 'Wardaddy' Collier who are the first and often last line of defence against German forces that both out-man and out-gun them.

What we thought

Fury is a major step-up for director David Ayer after his last film, the dreadful Schwartzanegger-led Sabotage, which went some way towards erasing the good will that he engendered with his top-notch “blokey” cop film, End of Watch. Unfortunately, though it's a handsomely made and well-acted piece of work, it is dragged down by a muddled tone, unfortunate comparisons to better work and a sense that, despite the worthiness of the story, it doesn't really add up to very much.

The film is effectively broken into three parts and though they work decently enough on their own, they do add up to a seriously incoherent, disjointed (but not unenjoyable) end product.

The first of them, which picks up with our heroes in the middle of a bloody battle and with one of their own having just been shot to death, is your typical war-is-hell war film that isn't up to the best examples of this genre, with neither Saving Private Ryan's cacophonous brutality, nor Apocalypse Now's poetry. It's fine but we've seen this a thousand times before, a number of times done better, and though there is some interest in seeing how new recruit, Norman Ellison (a very good Logan Lerman) meshes with this group of veterans while trying to come to terms with the horrors of war, it's unarguably the most boring part of the film.

Interestingly, the second act, which is the film's “quiet between storms” section, is much more engrossing, despite the fact that it feels like a completely different movie to what came before and that it consists almost entirely of people talking, with nary an explosion for miles around. Drawing far more from the talky set pieces of Inglorious Bastards than any other war film, the second part of Fury suffers badly by comparison but at least tries to do something interesting with its characters. Effectively an examination of the moral grey areas that still managed to in a conflict as black-and-white as World War II and whether fighting for a good cause necessarily makes you a “good guy”, it's not wholly satisfying but it is still quietly engrossing. That it uses its only two female characters as little more than props doesn't exactly help it's case, though.

The final section, then, is by far the most enjoyable as it loses all pretences of seriousness and becomes a fine, muscular action film. It's completely tonally inconsistent with what came before and it's more than a bit ridiculous, of course, but it is the section where all the film's good points really shine. By this point you've already gotten to know the main characters so this extended battle scene of our heroes verses seemingly a thousand SS troops, packs some emotional punch along with its visceral action. Admittedly, any complexities tat may have once been part of these characters is quickly ironed out as they are all represented as pretty much perfect Heroes but, hey, you can'y have everything.

If it seems like I'm being overly harsh to a film that still quite easily earns its three stars, it's only because for a war film with stunning cinematography, exciting action-scene choreography and all round excellent performances (even Shia Lebouf is tolerable here!), it's disappointing how half-assed it is in its writing. Sure, it's entirely watchable in even it's most boring moments but it's also very much a missed opportunity, as it is ultimately vapid, inconsistent and incoherent and it constantly raises interesting themes only to discard them minutes later.

Not-too-discerning war movie fans may well really enjoy it, but everyone else should really check their expectations at the door, if they're to have any hope of not being disappointed by Fury.




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