The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



Fury is a movie that lures you in with the promise of one thing, then gives you so much more than you expected. Just this morning, somebody asked me if I thought there was anything new for war movies to offer audiences. There have, after all, been so many over the decades. The answer is yes, there is still new territory to mine. Fury is proof. Things we've seen before in war movies are explored from a different angle here, and there's a heavily psychological element that proves even more engrossing than the combat sequences.

Set during WWII, the movie stars Brad Pitt as Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier, the commander of a five-man crew in a Sherman tank. The other members are born-again Christian Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), tough guy Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), laid back Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), and a kid named Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). Norman's the new guy, a typist who finds himself forced onto the front lines. He doesn't fit in with his hardened fellow soldiers. He's never killed a Nazi, and Collier doesn't entirely trust being in a firefight with him for this reason. The guys attempt to toughen Norman up. It's not hard to do when the war wages fiercely around them. Eventually the men find themselves in a situation where they're outnumbered, and from which the only way out is to fight with everything they have.

What Fury promises, and delivers on, is an exciting look at combat from the inside of a tank. Writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch) shows the camaraderie and trust that is essential when stuck inside a giant metal vehicle with other soldiers. The specific duty of each man is depicted in detail, as is the way they all work together to achieve their missions. As Collier shouts out orders, the others fire shells and ammunition at their targets. What's especially interesting is the emphasis on how clunky the tank is, despite its firepower. In one particularly gripping scene, one of the men frantically turns a crank, hoping to swivel the tank's cannon towards an approaching target in time. These scenes are extremely suspenseful, while moments showing the tank casually rolling over dead bodies achieve a power in illuminating the cost of war.

Fury works on an action level in a big way. Its human element is even better. In many respects, this is Norman's story as much as it is Collier's. The young soldier has no taste for killing, but quickly learns from his comrades that the only way to survive in combat is to embrace a sense of anger toward, and hatred for, the enemy. (Fury is not just the name of the tank they drive, it's also the fundamental emotion the story revolves around.) Although uncomfortable, accepting the idea that war is a kill-or-be-killed proposition is the only possible way out. The manner in which the film portrays this is different than any other war movie I can recall seeing. Ayer focuses on the mental shift Norman has to make and that the others already made a long time ago.

The best section of the movie is also likely to be its most controversial, at least among viewers only seeking adventure and action. There is a lengthy stretch of story – about 20 or 25 minutes – in which Collier and Norman find two German women living in an apartment. Instead of killing them, they set up house, having dinner and temporarily trying to forget that they're at war. What's astonishing about this scene is that, by this point, we've seen Norman's humanity. Now we see Collier's. He briefly shows a glimpse of who he is (or, more likely, was) outside of war. The rugged kill-'em-all mentality suddenly sheds itself. It's a reprieve from the non-stop hell he is normally faced with. Giving away how this scene resolves itself would be unfair, but it's a great example of what makes Fury so engaging. The movie suggests that people ironically have to lose, or at least bury, a large portion of themselves in order to live long enough to get that part back.

The performances are uniformly excellent. Brad Pitt is phenomenal as a leader trying to hold it all together for the sake of his men. He does incredibly multi-layered work here. For all his recent personal baggage, Shia LaBeouf completely disappears into character, so much so that you may forget who you're watching. His character brings an interesting dynamic, as he tries to spread Christianity in the midst of carnage and death. Bernthal and Pena are also solid, but Logan Lerman is really the MVP of Fury. The young actor, who was so terrific in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, flawlessly shows how Norman goes from being a scared kid to a confident soldier. Even more impressive, he makes that transition completely credible, without falling into convention or stereotype.

Fury could have given the supporting players even more to do, but by and large, it's a riveting, thoughtful war picture. Appropriately gritty production values and cinematography add to the vibe. Everyone knows the old saying “War is hell.” Fury shows why that's just as true on a psychological level as it is on a physical one. The film is a powerhouse.

( 1/2 out of four)

Fury is rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout. The running time is 2 hours and 14 minutes.

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