Wednesday 2014-10-29

Fury directed and written by David Ayer

War divides people into those who get to go home, and those who don't.

In this film, there are lots of ways to fall into the latter category: you forget what home is, you drop your guard, you work with fools, etc. We witness each of these through the eyes of one US tank team as the Allies fight their way through western Europe and into Germany.

While set during World War 2, don't look to this film for a paragon of historical accuracy. What it does well is focus on the permanent problems of warfare: preventing your enemy from fighting, and keeping yourself fighting.

To start, a new recruit has been assigned to the tank team after it just lost one of their guys to enemy fire. The new guy has been Army-trained for clerical work, not machine-gunning down Germans, and consequently locks up in his first exposure to enemy action -- thereby killing another entire tank crew.

His commanding officer pulls him aside and slaps him around after he says "they were too young", and forces him to execute a German prisoner-of-war in order to get him used to killing on command. Say you were the CO, what would you have done: Commit the war crime, or risk your crew?

Similarly, the film ends when the CO has been worn down, and finally breaks. This bankrupts the team strategically, even though it's still working tactically. When your CO becomes resigned to a certain fate, how do get them back on task and continue to fight effectively?

By concentrating entirely on one tank, these team-dynamics questions dominate the film. Not since TheHurtLocker have we seen a film look this closely into how one gets a team ready to fight.

Though, when they do fight, it looks like Star Wars because Ayer has abused the conceit of "1 out of every 5 bullets is a tracer round" so much that it seems like every bullet is a tracer round and every howitzer shell is burning phosphorus. The best thing about this is that it makes the action easily intelligible, whereas in other films the battle scenes can be lackluster because we literally can't see all the threats: the shrapnel, the bullets, the zones of certain death.

Countering this digital light-show are the non-stop shots of mud + body parts that reoccur throughout the entire film. Ayer's war is a machine that churns soil and soldiers into a gray muck that we'd like to forget. Though few of us will.