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Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but strong appeal for war movie buffs. MOBILE version |
. "Fury"

We've seen this movie before. Well, variants of it, without much to distinguish this year's war drama by way of originality or conceptual approach. If you recently saw "Lone Survivor," for instance, you might just want to let some time pass before catching this. Unless you're a war-movie buff who can't get enough military action on film. For you it's a must!

It's 1945, the tail end of World War II, although you wouldn't know that by the fervor of the Nazi tank crews or the SS with whom our troops are battling it out with their outclassed M4 Sherman tanks, limited ammo, and fewer men. Those men we do have to take out these last German fanatics are a great breed, each in his own unique way, leading off with writer-director Davide Ayer's big gun Brad Pitt as tough and fearless sergeant Don "Wardaddy" Collier, tank commander.

As his diminishing platoon meets the fury of violence from elements of the Nazi guard still vying for ground and proof of their over-idealized superiority, the sequences become episodic. Most singular of all is the one that writer-director David Ayer cleverly but indulgently inserts between battles.

Having returned to the main allied unit and waiting for his next orders, Wardaddy spots a fraulein in the window of an as yet undestroyed apartment building. As part of his training of the new recruit Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), he leads him inside the building to check for threats. What they find are two ladies: Irma, (Anamaria Marinca), a mother, and her equally alarmed daughter Emma (Alicia von Rittberg), terrified by the presence and threat of two American soldiers suddenly in their home. In this episode, the initial fear and apprehension produces a revelation of Wardaddy's temperament and sensitivity, turning terror into hospitality.

As a significant recess from violence, it's a long moment to explore a soldier's need for R&R in the islands of humanity and emotion that may be found in the midst of ferocity and brutality.

When the troops (others in their macho 5-man tank crew have joined them) return to their jobs, Wardaddy faces the loss of other tanks and troops before they must decide how they will face the super-challenges awaiting them on the field of battle.

The bonding of this macho band is the paydirt of the genre and "Fury" is classic in every way -- which is also to say, almost entirely predictable. And, not just because we know beforehand who won the war. Ayer makes this a 24-hour story of survival from which he draws consuming splashes of empathy and tragedy with the inevitability of a writer's character sacrifices for the sake of his drama.

Composing the crew are gunner Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf), a man of faith and unquestionable loyalty); driver Trini Garcia (Michael Pena), a Mexican everyman whose humor and acceptance of an order is instantaneous; Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal), the toxic hillbilly of the lot with more scorn than discipline; and, as the new kid who has trouble pulling a trigger, Norman, who has become Wardaddy's training project. Mentor and neophyte.

But for all the fine acting by this motivated cast, and production values that notably capture tank strategies amidst the grey grit of war, the distinguishing feature is the metal -- the clang and thunder of tank warfare: the power of it as a weapon, the sheer terror of it as a target.

Ayer's target is a war movie with a big name cast. He got it, with 2-hours and 14 minutes that leaves us with the ache of war weariness; and a last act that reminds us that we're watching a Hollywood drama in which the big ending is guided not so much by realism but by the exaggerations of commercial necessity.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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