2014-10-16

Fury – What the Horror of War Reveals

by Yo Snyder

War has become nothing but a game to us. Due to the Call of Duty’s
and the Battlefields and the Medal of Honors, mowing down hordes of enemies has
become as mundane as taking out the trash; it’s a necessary chore to get the
job done. Fury seems to want to
remind us that war is more morally complex than that, and when killing becomes
“just another part of the job”, what does that say about our humanity? I say it
seems to want to explore these issues
because while the initial set up of the film is ready to delve into the murky
quagmire of the morality of war, the story ends with a scene that could have
easily been one of the key set pieces from any of the previously mentioned
games; with about as much reflection as a gamer might have mowing down
countless enemies to complete the level. It’s a shame because it’s clear that Fury really, almost desperately, wants
to join the pantheon of great war films like Saving Private Ryan and Blackhawk
Down
, but despite all of its hard work it falls short of that lofty goal. Instead
it ends up being just a pretty good war movie that strives to depicts the
horrors of war that in the end plays out like an epic Medal of Honor video game
level.

The best part of Fury?
The sound design. I know that’s kind of a strange thing to pick out as the best
element, but I’m telling you, the sound was one of the most impressive things
about this movie. You felt every cannon shot, every explosion, every bullet,
every impact. I jumped in my seat once or twice due to the sharp, explosive
retort of mortar fire. My seat rattled at times during scenes inside the tank.
This is the type of sound design that should win an Oscar (the rest of the
movie…not so much). Couple that with a mostly great sound track, and Fury does a fantastic job of
establishing an extremely tense atmosphere. There are times where it almost
feels like you’re watching some sort of intense horror movie rather than a war
movie – which goes back this film’s desire to highlight that war is a horror.
The soundtrack can get a bit overwrought and overdramatic in parts (much like
the movie itself), but like the sound design, it goes a long way to helping
this movie establish tone and atmosphere and is generally an excellent example
of how to use music in a movie.

The fact is these elements go a long way in propping up the
more dramatic moments in the movie, which if left to their own devices would
not have as much impact. The key dramatic moments in this movie really aren’t
earned. The film wants to explore the corrupting influence of the horrors of
war, but the changes wrought by those things happen a bit too quickly and too
conveniently and not in a fully convincing manner, which in the end leaves them
feeling a bit like a forced cliché. The innocent, wide-eyed, never-been-in-combat
New Recruit is exposed to a tank crew that’s been fully exposed the horrors of
war and as a result are barely keeping it together. New Recruit believes in
what’s right; Seasoned Veteran tells him war isn’t about right and wrong, it’s
about doing the job, and the job is killing. New Recruit believes ideals are
important; Seasoned Veteran tells him while ideals are nice, but history is
violent. One convenient (if it can be called that) tragedy later, and New Recruit
is mowing down Nazis with as much hate and calloused indifference as Seasoned
Veteran. It’s a bit disconcerting that the film implies right and wrong and the
importance of ideals can be so quickly corrupted by the horrors of war. The
implication almost seems to be that war exposes those things as facades that
humanity erects in order to have a better opinion of itself, but war tears all
of that away and shows humanity for what it really is. It’s a bleak outlook, a
grim one, and a hopeless one. I also think it’s an inaccurate one.

My dad was in a war, and he shared stories of hope, stories
of how the Right Thing still mattered, and that even in the face of the
Violence of History, ideals still mattered. The issue really comes down to
where we think right and wrong and higher ideals come from. If they are merely the
facades created by humanity as this films implies, then it would be easy for
them to be torn down or disregarded when needed (such as “getting the job done”
in a time of war”. However, if they are things external to us, not created or
established by us but created and established outside of us, if they are
eternal elements established an eternal God who exists beyond the limited scope
of history; then it is possible for them to endure even in the face of the
horrors of war. They can remain incorruptible regardless of “what a man can do
to a man”. War is a horror, but I don’t believe it can corrupt eternal Truths
that were established long before the “art of war” was ever developed. It is
the root of the righteous that endures (Proverbs 12:12), and it does so because
that root does not depend on the existence of mortal man, but immortal God.

If I were to give a subtitle to Fury, it would be “War is Hell Overkill”. This a grisly movie with
many grisly scenes determined to illustrate just how grisly, ghastly and
horrific war can be; almost too much so. It works too hard to make that point.
Another possible subtitle would be Fury:
“War and the Corruption of Man” as it focuses quite a bit on how war can
quickly wipe away “naïve” ideals such as right and wrong. The biggest issue
with Fury is that it just tries too
hard. It tries too hard to deliver these messages. It tries too hard to be
gritty, grisly and grim. It tries too hard to be dramatic. It tries too hard to
be powerful. It’s a shame, because if it would just let its many elements work
together without trying so hard to force anything, it could have been a
sublimely powerful and poignant film. Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman deliver fine
performances that often edge on greatness. The cinematography is harrowing and
beautiful, and I already touched on the amazing sound design and music. The
central ideas explored are thought provoking and challenging. The battles sense
are often extremely intense and many scenes leave you with a twisted, gut
punched feeling of dread. Yet issues with pacing (a middle scene drags on too
long and derails the films momentum), some overwrought dialogue and carnage,
and the fact that key dramatic moments aren’t really earned and are instead
rushed, forced and clichéd keep Fury
from reaching the heights it so desperately wants to ascend to. It wants to
display the real horrors of war, but ends with the absurd carnage of a video
game.

Score: 5 of 7 – Fury is a grim, bleak, grisly war film
overloaded with language and carnage. While it tries to be a meditative
reflection on the horrors of war, it often tries too hard for those moments and
doesn’t earn others. In its best moments it’s a tense gut-punch, at its worst
it’s contrived and clichéd. It has all the trappings of an Oscar-bait film, but
falls short of that ambition.