DVD Review: Fury

furydvdAdvance word had it that “Fury” was raw, intense and realistic. Not the World War II of “The Great Escape” or George Clooney’s recent powder puff, “The Monuments Men.” For its unsparing brutality, the early critics compared it to “Saving Private Ryan.”

Let’s stay with that matchup. How does “Fury’s” battle-hardened crew leader, Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), compare with “Private Ryan’s” empathetic Capt. John Miller (Tom Hanks)? Both are practiced, practical warriors, but Wardaddy has lost most of what Capt. Miller has tried to retain: compassion and philosophy. Wardaddy is exhausted — physically and certainly spiritually. He’s not evil but only because in the final weeks of World War II, deep into a desperately defended Germany, there is no good or evil. There’s killing and being killed and he is determined not to be killed.

In terms of unflinching horrors, “Fury” out-gores “Ryan.” The focus on war’s violence and exploding bodies is excessive and, finally, prurient. War is hell. We get it already.

What cannot be questioned is the quality of the acting. Pitt, at 51, is at the top of his game. His Wardaddy is driven, intelligent and often clear thinking. And somewhere in his wracked psyche there’s recollection of decency, table manners and the ability to care. But he can’t quite hold the thought.

His crew is classic WWII lifeboat lite: Gordo Garcia, a Mexican; Boyd “Bible” Swan, a verse-quoting Christian; Grady “Coon Ass” Travis, a hillbilly; and Norman “Machine” Ellison, the callow youth through whose eyes we follow the action. And there’s a lot of action.

Shia LaBeouf as “Bible” Swan is the best actor of the bunch. His character has been driven half-mad by the killing and cruelty that the Good Book — his guide — condemns. Jon Bernthal as the sensationally uncouth “Coon Ass” also is outstanding, particularly as his unwashed character shows, near the end, that there’s a human heart beating within.

According to studio publicity, Pitt and his co-stars prepared for filming by spending a week in a boot camp operated by Navy SEALS. The idea was to “break us down,” Pitt said later, by keeping the cast exhausted, wet, cold and in each other’s faces. The actors had to live in a comfortless, claustrophobic tank for days at a time, eating sleeping and relieving themselves within. The results were impressive. The guys really look filthy and beat.

Despite an overlong, under-explained interval with two German women, “Fury” never rises above all the shooting. It blasts its way to a conclusion that is free of message, with no hint of a redemptive insight into human character. Just a whole bunch of shot-up bodies.

Stephen Fay

Stephen Fay

Managing Editor at The Ellsworth American
Stephen Fay, managing editor of The Ellsworth American since 1996, is a third-generation Californian. Starting out as a news reporter in 1974, he has been an editor since 1976, working in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont before settling in Ellsworth with his wife and two daughters. [email protected]

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