Tense war drama is one-dimensional and wonderfully engaging because of it. Is it worth $10? Yes We...
I’ve long held that if real life were divided into genres, war would not be an action movie, like so many Hollywood war movies are. Sure, the elements are there—guns, explosions, blood, death—but actual war is all too real and tragic an event to be treated as entertainment. No, actual war’s real life genre is horror. The blood and death are there, and so are the tension, dread, pain, suffering, and misery. Very few movies capture the true horror aspects of war, and even fewer have done it as successfully as Fury. In “Fury” we bear witness to: the sight of the skin from part of a man’s face splattered on the floor and wall of a tank; a man in unbearable agony--because he is on fire--shoot himself in the head; a man get his head blown off by cannon fire; a body get run over by a tank; children gunned down; and people hung from posts.
“Fury” begins with an SS officer on a white horse surveying a battlefield. Out of the shadows a man leaps from a tank, knocks him off of his horse, and stabs him repeatedly in the chest and face. As the man pulls his knife from the dead officer’s eye socket, we see he is Sgt. Collier (Brad Pitt), who is later revealed to have the awesome moniker “Wardaddy.” He hates SS officers with all his being. Sharing in his sentiment is his crew: Boyd 'Bible' Swan (Shira LaBeouf), Trini 'Gordo' Garcia (Michael Pena), and Grady 'Coon-Ass' Travis (Jon Bernthal). During their last battle they lost a gunner. Upon getting back to headquarters, they find that he has been replaced by green as they come Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman).
Ellison is a fresh-faced kid used to working behind a desk. The assignment to a tank crew is not what he wanted or expected. Ellison also has issues with killing and has a hard time pulling the trigger, even when doing so would save the life of his fellow soldiers. Collier sees this attitude as one that must be quickly remedied, and he wastes no time in doing so. As “Fury” progresses, we see a fundamental shift with Ellison. He starts off as scared and unwilling to kill, and by the end he has seen enough horror at the hands of the enemy where not only does he not mind it, he wants to do it.
“Fury” isn’t all violence and dread. There is a very nice middle act in which a German town is liberated. Wardaddy and Ellison make their way into a nearby apartment where they find sisters Irma (Anamaria Marinca) and Emma (Alicia von Rittberg). The two men are at peace while with the ladies. Their hardened war instincts are set aside for a more domesticated and tranquil state of being in which there is conversation, love making, and a home cooked meal is served. It’s the closest to home that either man has experienced in a while, and you can see their longing for it. Of course, the bliss does not last and the men have to get back to the fight. In addition to the messages about the horrors of war and the way that men can be turned into killers by it, “Fury” drives home the message that peace is fragile and very easily broken. And it drives it home in a big tank. Buy It.
Also New This Week:
Tough, hard-nose judges don’t come much tougher or harder-nosed than Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall). After over forty years on the bench in a small Indiana town, he shows no signs of slowing down in dispensing justice, save for the occasional memory lapse. After his wife dies, his estranged son Hank (Robert Downey, Jr.), a big time lawyer in Chicago, comes home for the funeral. He hasn’t been home in a while, but that doesn’t stop the old tensions between father and son from resurfacing.
Just as Hank is getting ready to leave town and never return, he gets a call from his brother Glen (Vincent D'Onofrio). Their father went to the store the night before and it looks like he hit and killed a man with his car. Hank has to put his anger aside and help defend his father from the charges—whether his father wants it or not.
Downey has a knack for playing whip smart motormouths, and Hank is another in Downey’s oeuvre. It works for him, as his type of slick, big city lawyer should act that way. He is even called out for it by former high school sweetheart Samantha Powell (Vera Farmiga). It also provides a perfect counter balance to the mom and apple pie Americana values of small town Indiana, particularly as embodied by Joseph’s first choice for defense council C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard). To Hank, C.P, is nothing more than a small time country rube with a law degree. This is a perception that C.P. does very little to disprove.
The Judge does a great job of telling a story that unfolds very organically. As the investigation about what happened that night continues, revelations are made about the Palmer family history. Painful details emerge, and director David Dobkin handles them with a delicate touch that does not veer too sentimental. We care about Joseph’s story, and we route for Hank to do what he can to defend his father against a special prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton) who also bears a grudge. The question surrounding Hank is: How far will he go? Rent It.
Before I Go to Sleep
For those who understand high concept pitches and/or movie math, I can sum up “Before I Go to Sleep” as follows: “50 First Dates” + “Memento” / “Gaslight” = “Before I Go to Sleep.”
For those unfamiliar with how to read that equation, here is the spelled out version: Christine (Nicole Kidman) has an amnesia in which she wakes up every morning forgetting who she is and her husband Norman (Colin Firth) has to remind her (that’s “50 First Dates”). In order to keep her own record to piece her life together, she keeps a video diary (“Memento” was tattoos, but same basic concept) at the behest of a man named Dr. Nasch (Mark Strong), who calls her every morning. How Dr. Nasch came into her life is unclear, but he has been calling her for weeks and is encouraging her to keep her own diary because her husband may be hiding secrets and tricking her (that’s “Gaslight”—fantastic film from the 1940s).
Not only is Dr. Nasch’s involvement in the how and why totally unclear, there are revelations in “Before I Go to Sleep” that left me dumbfounded. “Dumb” being the operative word because one second of logical thinking obliterates the chance of it being remotely believable. Still, the movie does work on a purely superficial level as a decent thriller with some twists, and there is a genuinely heartfelt ending that is much better acted than this movie deserves. “Before I Go to Sleep” is one of those movies that makes sense—if you don’t think about it. Rent It.
More New Releases: “The Book of Life,” animated film about a young man named Manolo (Diego Luna) who must face his greatest fears; “The Usual Suspects,” great caper film from director Bryan Singer, with one of the best twists in the history of movies; and “Pork Chop Hill,” gritty Korean War film starring Gregory Peck.
Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.