Two stars. Rated R, for profanity and relentless battlefield violence and gore
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 10.17.14
Classic World War II movies, absent the cynicism and despair that later infected so many big-screen depictions of the Vietnam quagmire, laced their stories with honor, chivalry, moral fortitude and an absolute respect for the chain of command.
The Nazi enemy may have behaved like vicious, amoral swine, but our stalwart boys worked together with courage and righteousness, guided by the innovative strategies of battlefield stalwarts whose ingenuity helped trump sometimes superior forces.
This classic archetype continued for decades thereafter, building to modern classics such as Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and HBO’s lavish miniseries, Band of Brothers, both of which gained their power from a rich tapestry of characters about whom we cared very, very deeply.
It would appear that this cinematic model has fallen out of favor.
Writer/director David Ayer’s Fury presents the latter days of the European campaign as the equivalent of an inner-city street fight between drug gangs, with the grunts on our side no better than the animals wearing the Nazi cross. The so-called “good guys” in this unpalatable story seem modeled on the thugs who tortured and humiliated Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib; early on, in fact, we’re granted a sequence of American GIs behaving just that badly with a captured German soldier.
It’s interesting — carrying this observation even further — that this story’s sole act of genuine kindness, of benevolent altruism, is offered by one of those aforementioned Nazi monsters. We could call it dramatic irony, but I’m not willing to give Ayer that much credit.
Three of the five primary characters in this film are one-dimensional brutes granted only a hiccup of actual characterization: superficial affectations implied solely by nicknames such as Gordo, Bible and Coon-Ass.
(Just in passing, I’d love to declare a moratorium on movies with characters who never seem to have real names, but instead are granted stupid monikers better suited to comic book villains. It has become a tiresome and frankly irritating cliché.)
Our other two protagonists, while graced with a bit more presence and personality, aren’t that much more likable ... but we eventually bond with them, to a degree, solely because we’ve gotta care about somebody in this mean-spirited mess.
And “mean-spirited” is this film’s prevailing tone: no surprise, since Ayer is the enraged scripter of nihilistic cop dramas such as Training Day and End of Watch, and earlier this year wrote and directed the offensively deplorable Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, Sabotage. Ayer clearly doesn’t think much of his fellow man, and a little of that contemptuous vitriol goes a long way.
Given this new film’s 134-minute length, that’s a very long way.