“I’ve seen David Ayer‘s Fury,” I wrote a friend last week. “Rough, harsh, real-deal World War II stuff. Men in a small, smelly, vulnerable tank that they occasionally piss in. Months on end, unshaven faces, scars and body odor, best job they’ve ever had. Rugged verisimilitude as far as the battle sequences go…if you’re not bothered, that is, by the fact that the tracer rounds are green, which was mostly used by the other side. U.S. forces have always used red tracers, or so my research tells me. But that’s a side-issue. Yes, Brad Pitt is suitably gruff and paternal and commanding as WarDaddy. But otherwise forget it.
“Well, I don’t mean ‘forget it’ exactly. It’s a decent enough film and relatively well made, but it’s just a good gritty war movie. Not that profound or touching or even believable at the end of the day, certainly in terms of the finale.”
He insisted it was great stuff all around and I said, “It’s not great. It’s strong when it’s strong, but otherwise it’s…strange? [SPOILERS AHEAD]
“Until the finale Fury always makes you feel you’re in a grim, generally realistic situation. The horror, the horror. I for one couldn’t stand the wimpy, sensitive, candy-assed Logan Lerman and his wide-eyed, open-mouthed innocent routine. I wanted to see him killed every step of the way, and painfully at that — but wimps never seem to catch a bullet in films of this sort.
“In any event Fury has two problem scenes. One, a kind of domestic interlude in which Pitt and Lerman enjoy some chill with two German women (Anamaria Marinca, Alicia von Rittberg) in a small village apartment. It involves a little civilized piano playing and a nice meal and a suggestion of sex and a lot of talk, and it goes on forever. I was wondering if the rest of the movie was going to stay in this apartment with the women getting pregnant and Pitt and Lerman renouncing warfare for fatherhood. Anyway, that’s one problem. The other is that fucking head-scratching finale.
“I’m talking about a nihilistic fuck-all finish that makes no real strategic sense, and I mean not even a little bit. It seems inspired on some level by the ending of The Wild Bunch, which I understand Ayer is a big fan of. But there is no Wild Bunch rationale built into the story or the characters so it feels posed and futile.
[HERE COME THE SPOILERS!]
“The climactic situation, as you know, comes when the weary Pitt and his four bone-tired men (Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena and a revolting redneck animal played by Jon Bernthal) are stuck next to a country farmhouse with their tank temporarily disabled by a land mine. And then they discover that 300 well-armed German troops are marching in their direction. Pitt has been ordered by his superior, Jason Isaacs, to protect a supply train, but five guys in a broken-down tank vs. 300 German solders is just suicide, plain and simple. They’ve no chance so why does Pitt decide to fight it out? To what end? They aren’t trapped. They could run for the trees and meet up with U.S. forces later and live to fight again. But no. You can call it bravery but I call it nihilism.
“I understand crazy courage and uncommon valor and all that. I choke up every time I think of Sam Jaffe climbing to the top of the temple so he can blow the bugle and warn the British troops of an ambush at the end of Gunga Din. And I understood the situation during the finale of Pork Chop Hill when 30 or 40 trapped U.S. troops have nothing to do but fight back against hordes of Chinese troops. And the ending of Platoon when U.S. troops were being overrun by North Vietnamese but they fight on regardless and even call in an air strike against their own position. And I certainly understand the Wild Bunch finale when William Holden and Ernest Borgnine and the other two decide that they’re getting old and their lives are over so why not go out in a blaze of gunfire against the corrupt Mapache troops?
But the Fury finale is nothing like any of these scenarios.
My friend responded that “that’s not how it went down.”
I said, “What do you mean that’s not how it went down’? That’s exactly how it went down. Pitt said ‘Nope, I’m gonna fight it out….you guys run for the trees if you want.’ Think about that decision for four or five seconds. It was utter suicide and for what?”
The friend said, “If they made a movie about guys who ran for the hills I don’t think it would be quite the same, would it?”
“Not ‘run for the hills’,” I said. “Hide in the trees until the company passes by, and then regroup with the nearby American troops and fight on. What’s wrong with that? They weren’t fighting the enemy in order to give other Allied troops time to achieve some other objective — this wasn’t the Alamo. They weren’t ordered to protect a bridge at all costs, like the guys in Saving Private Ryan. This was April 1945 — the end of the war. Hitler would be dead in a couple of weeks. It didn’t matter. If Pitt and his homies had abandoned the tank and run like thieves I would have jumped out of my seat and said ‘Yes! Run for it! All right!'”
The friend said the finale was analogous to “those two cops in the mean streets of Los Angeles in Ayer’s End of Watch.”
“Not the same thing at all,” I replied. “Sorry but you’re throwing out bad analogies. And that finale in End of Watch was ridiculous also. L.A. cop Jake Gyllenhaal is shot by gangbangers, what, 12 or 15 times and he’s attending the funeral of his partner in the next scene?
“I will stand to the end of this thread defending my analogies just like Brad ‘Wardaddy’ Pitt did against the Nazis!,” my friend replied.
And that was the end of our chat.
During the big court-martial scene in Paths of Glory a French infantryman, Private Maurice Ferol (Timothy Carey), is asked by the prosecution why he retreated after his comrades had all been killed in an attack on the Ant Hill (i.e., a German fortification). The question is satirically re-phrased by Colonel Dax (Kirk Douglas), the defense counsel. “Why didn’t you attack the Ant Hill single-handed?” Dax asks. “Single-handed? Are you kidding, sir?,” Ferol replies. “Yes, I’m kidding,” Dax says.
Pitt and his crew going up against 300 German troops isn’t much different from Ferol vs. the Ant Hill, trust me.
When I mentioned this absurdity to a colleague as we left last week’s screening, and he said that Pitt and his men were brave and valorous and self-sacrificing. “That’s why they called them ‘The Greatest Generation’,” he said. What?
A soldier can’t go into battle saying “I don’t want to die…where can I hide?” He has to go into battle saying “we have to man up and accomplish our objective.” The chances of survival are never good but suicide is suicide. And as a moviegoer I can’t support a battle in which there’s no chance of the protagonists prevailing. There has to be at least a shot at victory.
If it’s a choice between self-destruction and running for cover in order to live and fight another day, just call me Jeff “run for the treeline” Wells.