“Ideals are peaceful… war is violent.”
Fury is one of those films that I always liked the look of when it was on the side of buses, but then never ended up getting a chance to see for whatever reason. It happened with Spider-Man: Homecoming last month, it will probably happen with Thor: Ragnarok when it comes out. But those are superhero movies. This one is about the real heroes. It’s… also the DVD mum got dad for Christmas 2015, so that’s why I watched it in the first place. Whoops!
Fury follows the crew of the eponymous World War 2 Sherman tank, and their new bowel gunner, a totally inexperienced typist who must learn the ropes, and fast, lest he bring down the rest of the tight-knit team who have been together since the start of the war. They move along the German lines, a five-man army taking the country one small town at a time. There isn’t much else to it without major spoilers, but when a film with so simple a synopsis makes it into my top ten, you know you’ve got a gem.
I have to start by praising the sound design in its totality. There is no better word for ‘all of it is stupendous’. Every bolt clattering in its housing rattles your bones, every muzzle flare is a blinding crash of light. Don’t even get me started on the tank shells. It’s the slams of punctured metal and the whistling of high velocity shells (which were created by, of all things, taping a whistle to a frisbee and throwing it past a microphone) that really bring Fury to life and make you feel like you’re the one going to war. It’s not just the sound effects that are tremendous but also the soundtrack. Haunting choral movements roll in like fog whenever Nazis are on screen, in stark contrast to the triumphant, almost electronic bass and sweeping piano utilised whenever the ‘Good Guy’ theme pounds across the battlefield. It’s as guttural and just as much of a beast as the tanks themselves, and it all creates that chilling atmosphere of hollow glory, hollow being the operative word, when the tracks (no pun intended… geddit, caterpillar tracks?) are so mournful and full of emotion. It also helped greatly with placing my shoulders somewhere up round my ears during one of the most tense moments I’ve seen in film, being the one-on-one tank combat scene. Fury circles a growling Tiger 1 tank, taking heavy machine gun fire and narrowly avoiding the fearsome shells. The Tiger itself seems impervious to anything our heroes throw at it, and the perspective given from the cold, efficient German crew just adds to the pressure of the scene. When two rounds are put square into the Tiger’s back end, flames erupting from the massive entry wounds, you have to manually pull your nails out of your armrests. Slow as the operation of tanks may be, Fury’s action is pulse-racing and truly a white-knuckle experience. Speaking of the good guys, though, all the characters, I think, are as strong as each other. This makes Fury the odd one out in the ‘Suicide Squad’ genre, and by that I mean a film or game where all but one or often all of the team of main characters are killed off. Some examples being Halo: Reach, Halo 3: ODST, Rogue One, (click on all of those for my reviews of them) and… Well, the DC flop itself. There is not, I believe, a single weak link in the main group in Fury. The cast is great, too, and that helps, of course. This also allow for greater impact when we are offered the symbolism of all four original Fury operators dying inside the tank, forever entombed in the vehicle that became their home for the duration of the war, and will now be their home forever, and Norm, the new recruit, escaping. It is touching and tastefully done, so tastefully in fact that I didn’t notice it during my first watch of the film. While we’re on the subject of subtle emotion, the poignancy of the closing aerial shot hit me lot harder watching it this time round (not to mention the fact that it’s the only time the camera leaves the ground for the whole film, where it spends all of its time boots on the ground with the soldiers), and is a fantastic visual note to finish on given the content and overarching messages of the rest of the film. Visuals throughout are also grogeous, and we all know what a sucker I am for large, chunky engines of war bristling with radio antennae, wires, spare ammunition and, most importantly, loads of guns. The gritty tone and washed-out visuals (done much more effectively than they were in Dunkirk where everything just looked sort of… wet) are punctuated at regular intervals by split-second shots of violence that are just long enough to imprint the flash of blood and guts on the backs of your eyelids for a few moments, after which the film rumbles forward with whatever skirmish is taking place. The gore, much like Fury’s imagery and emotion, is restrained enough to not become dragging, yet somehow intensely satisfying in its discretion.
To be Improved:
My complaints are mainly little nitpicks, as is often the case with films that make it into my top ten favourites of all time. The first issue I have is one that I don’t even mind that much, but I feel the need to point out that the constant laser-fire, tracer rounds though they may be, becomes a bit too Star Wars at points. Which, in actual fact, we all know is no problem for me, and to be honest it’s good that we actually get to see the bullets flying rather than a few yellow beams every now and again as per Saving Private Ryan and the like. While we’re on the topic of star wars, another problem with Fury is that, like Rogue One, and in fact Halo: Reach, the protagonists do develop a tendency to drop like flies. It makes more sense in Fury, though, because the whole climactic battle is them becoming drastically overwhelmed, pinned down with one of their treads destroyed, unable to move, fighting quite literally to the death. Speaking of Saving Private Ryan, there is a moment in Fury much like the opposite of the fact that Tom Hanks’ character lets a soldier live, and is then killed by the very same man. In Fury, Norm is forced by Sergeant Collier (Pitt) to shoot a German soldier, and is then, when spotted by an SS trooper while hiding under the tank as the film draws to a close, allowed to live. It’s different… But it’s just as cheesy, and it’s really the only moment that doesn’t hold up in terms of poise or subtlety like the rest of the film’s more intense scenes do. Now, the one big issue I have with Fury is the pacing. I guess in war it’s difficult for this not to be the fact, but the film has a choppy-changey attitude when it comes to knowing when to switch from a lull to an action sequence. It’s very obvious whenever someone or something is going to get shot, or an explosion is going to go off, or a enemy trap is about to be sprung, and is jarring when it suddenly grinds to a halt and spends what feels like quarter of an hour (a lot in film-time) on… breakfast? I guess a lot of it is to show the fragility of civilians, the hopelessness of it all, and, during a particularly cryptic anecdote from Micheal Pena’s Garcia, how close-knit Fury’s crew are, purposefully excluding Norm. It’s hard to follow, a little disjointed, and all in all a rather strange point in the film simply due to how suddenly everything quiets down. But, again, this is interrupted all in good time by the Germans shelling the town, obliterating not only the area itself but also whatever messages that scene was trying to convey, and I use the plural because to me it seemed to be around three or four mish-mash morals. It’s unfortunate that they all become a little tangled and are then forgotten about, because it did add another layer to the narrative, if a little too heavy-handed on the characterisation (John Berthnal’s standoffish Gordo licking a terrified German girl’s eggs and bacon, for instance).
Despite the above-mentioned awkwardness of the one scene that tries to cram emotional exposition into a film with such explosive subject matter, it still conjures up some touching subjects to consider. The bond between brothers in arms. The futility of war itself. The despair of it all. However, none of the sentiment delivered in Fury is rammed down your throat, as it is in so many films. There are no downright ‘sad’ scenes, which is why I haven’t used that word until now, yet it still hits home on the poignancy front. It also, luckily, hits home when it comes to the front that is the film’s setting, and the glorious fight scenes complete with a wholly appropriate and satisfying aesthetic, along with the expert sound design and the score’s tone, create a war movie that is as intimate as it is fiercely action-packed. One for the history books (pun well-deserved).