Saturday, October 18, 2014
You may be forgiven for wondering whether time has stopped during David Ayer’s “Fury,” a fun-free zone and a compendium of stock characters and war-movie clichés.
Brad Pitt stars as Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a sergeant in command of the five-man crew of a Sherman tank in Germany during the last stages of World War II. As for the crew, they’re as grossly underwritten as any in the genre: Gordo (Michael Peña), about whom we know only that he is Mexican; the hillbilly Grady (Jon Bernthal), whose nickname “Coon-Ass” tells you all you get to know; the bible-thumping “Bible” (Shia LaBeouf), of whom the same is true; and newcomer Norman (Logan Lerman), eight weeks into the army as a clerk typist and improbably pulled out to serve as the tank’s gunner.
Having figuratively emancipated the black race in a small role in last year’s “12 Years a Slave,” Pitt’s not about to take a backseat to anyone in what was obviously intended as a vehicle for his own acting award aspirations. Wardaddy, though, is as much a cipher as any of the others; under a thin veneer of clipped bravado, there’s another, even thinner veneer. The supporting players, meanwhile, are truly wasted. Bernthal, of whom I took special notice in both “Snitch” and “Grudge Match,” deserves better than the dumb Coon-Ass; LaBeouf can make nothing of Bible’s pompous piety; Lerman sports the same facial expression of wide-eyed wonder through the entire picture; and Peña – wow. It was Ayer who directed him opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in the enormously appealing “End of Watch,” a plum showcase for the talent I first saw in him in the terrific “30 Minutes or Less.” What an affront to find him here, playing a part so unrealized it could have been filled by any Latino in Hollywood.
Tank fighting, it must be said, is neither especially exciting nor particularly well suited to the cinema. It’s easier to park a Buick LeSabre head-out at Whole Foods than to move one of these suckers ninety degrees, making the action sluggish and unwieldy. Nor does the tank – with men stationed at different strata - lend itself to the claustrophobic intensity of, say, the submarine setting of “Das Boot.” “Fury’s” fundamental problem, though, is its distended 135-minute runtime, which feels as though Ayer is trying to outwait you into submission. Between the ponderous pauses between battles, the shots held static seemingly for minutes at a time, and superfluous scenes that add nothing to the story, Ayer could have cut 45 minutes without flinching.
In one of several endless scenes, the men accept the surrender of the remaining inhabitants of a bombed-out town. Pitt spots a woman who has stayed in her upstairs apartment and brings Lerman up to extract her. It takes Pitt all of two seconds to sniff out the daughter she’s hiding under her floor, whom he offers to Lerman as a sort of perquisite (not that she would have said nein in any event). Pitt and the hausfrau, meanwhile, retire to the kitchen, where he has her cook half a dozen eggs and proceeds to take his shirt off. My first thought: pecs ahoy! My second thought, when Ayer shoots Pitt from behind: how could Angelina let him get away with not shaving? Remember “12 Monkeys”? From the back, he looks like the thirteenth.
“Fury” ticks off every cliché on the war-movie checklist. Taciturn hero who’ll never surrender? Check. Ostensibly diverse cast of supporting characters with one (or fewer) personality trait each? Check. Battles in which the plucky Americans defeat the enemy despite being vastly outmanned? Check. One or more secondary characters finally die at right about the two-thirds mark? Check. The in-over-his-head new kid who doesn’t want to kill anyone but ultimately makes peace with the hellishness of war? Check. There’s not one thing in “Fury” that’s fresh, or compelling, or entertaining. Here’s a real letdown from a director and cast brimming with talent.