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General William Tecumseh Sherman was prophetic: "War is Hell!"
Ironically, life in the M4A3E8 Sherman Tank (named by the British for the Union General) was no different during World War II. The unsanctified blood and gore, and the unmitigated violence to inflict such, in copious proportions with extreme prejudice, upon one's enemy was the unrelenting theme of this most effective film. Not only was the film effective in relaying its antiwar statement, while projecting the heroism of sacrifice through honor and duty, the film, moreover, offered a prolonged glimpse into the hearts of those who fought for America, when America desperately needed heroes, some of mythological proportions.
The battle fields of World War II, as is the case in all of America's wars, were won by the many heroes, who were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to win the day and save themselves and their comrades from eminent and total destruction. "Fury's" grandest theme was to relate that in the 'fog of war' that everyone does not win, everyone does not survive; in fact, in terms of casualties, no individual survives intact, but he who wins does survive to fight another day. That is this essence of total war: It ain't ever over until it is over.
World War II was total war: The confrontation of good vs. evil, where collateral casualties were in greater abundance than those soldiers, who perished, within the many great, bloody battles upon the multiple fields of valor, and in the devastated cities under occupation, or bombed into near oblivion. The film "Fury" was set in such a olace, in the last days of World War II in the European Theater after the bloody Battle of the Bulge, just across the Rhine River as the American Army rolled through southwestern Germany toward Berlin - the center of Germany's Nazi government. Standing in their way was an inspired Wehrmacht, willing to fight to the last man to preserve their Nazi Deutschland, or despondent soldiers willing to surrender their division, of that same Wehrmacht, to the first American conquerors rolling headlong toward Berlin, just ahead of the revengeful Russians sweeping in from the north and east. Just which element of that storied Wehrmacht, which these American conquerors would indeed face was truly just a 'roll of the dice'.
Some soldiers met spotty opposition as the Americans rolled through Germany, and wee almost treated a liberators. The film "Fury" is about those remaining members of the Wehrmacht that fought a bitter fight on their home soil to blunt the invading hordes. For those troops engaged on both sides the remaining days of Europe's greatest war was the twentieth century's version of Tecumseh Sherman's "War is Hell".
Brad Pitt playing "Fury's" flawed but complex super warrior, the protagonist Sergeant Don 'Wardaddy' Collier, may have said it best, "I started this war killing Germans in Africa. Then France. Then Belgium. Now I'm killing Germans in Germany. It will end, soon. But before it does, a lot more people gotta die."
And die they did, the horror never spared for the audience's eyes. "Fury" exhibited the horrific carnage of war as if it was just a terrible, all encompassing job to kill with great prejudice, or be killed in return. To that ignoble end, "Fury" was more of a film about survival, and thus became the great, overarching dynamic of Sgt. Don 'Wardaddy' Collier - to bring his crew through the last of the war - alive.
To make that growing challenge a reality, here so close to the end of this war - possibly the greatest of mankind's 'Hell(s) on Earth' - Wardaddy was emboldened to succeed. Beneath his 'cool under extreme fire' exterior, there existed a seething need for Wardaddy to paradoxically coexist between two worlds within his ego: the nurturer of warriors, the provider of abject destruction of that enemy blocking the path of his final objective - unconditional peace. Brad Pitt's Wardaddy was the symbol of America as a warring giant upon a stage that would soon be brought to its inexorable end. His challenge, dramatic and pure, was endemic of life as a micro cog in the machine of war. His spirit, his soul, his conviction of purpose was as much the theme of this film as was all the poor players, and the larger pieces upon this board game of total war. To not understand Brad Pitt's Sgt. Don 'Wardaddy' Collier would be tantamount to not understanding the film.
One might wonder, from whence did Writer /Director David Ayer find his material to base the amalgamated character of the extra-committed Sgt. Wardaddy, as to how he saw his duty and as to his perseverance to carry on until the final fruition, and I have one idea, which was particularly embellished toward the end of the film. In the European theater, there was an American hero, who in no way resembled Brad Pitt's Wardaddy, except, they were most similar in devotion to duty above all else. This real American hero was a 19 year old Texan, slight in stature, named Audie Murphy.
1st Lt. Audie Murphy, with all of his medals. Noticed the Congressional Medal of Honor hanging around his neck.
After exhausting the ammunition for his M1 Carbine, Lt. Murphy climbed atop the burning M10 tank destroyer, and methodically used the tank's big, but exposed 50 caliber machine gun, for about an hour while dodging bullets and shrapnel, until all of his ammunition was spent, and the brave Lieutenant wounded twice.
Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch, commanding general of the Seventh Army, presented Lieutenant Murphy with the Medal of Honor for his heroism, which saved the lives of those under his command.
The official citation, regarding Lt' Murphy's most prestigious commendation, reads in part: For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position....His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he killed or wounded about 50. Lieutenant Murphy's indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods, which had been the enemy's objective.
Considering the last scene of film (spoiler alert), one has to question just how familiar Writer David Ayer was with the fantastic real battle events of Lt. Audie Murphy. Is that last scene in "Fury" imitating what would well be considered one of the bravest efforts of valor by any American soldier?
The M4A3E8 Sherman tank was almost as big of a star as Actor Pitt. Possessing the titular name of Fury, the most modern of all Sherman tanks, was faster that any Panzer, wielded a 76mm howitzer, capable of firing armor piercing shells, with an improved rate of fire and better accuracy. The problem here is that the Wehrmacht's Tiger heavy tank, which was significantly slow and not as nimble, had armor nearly 4 inches thick, and sported a giant 88mm canon that could easily rip through a Sherman's 3 inch armor, while the the Sherman's incredibly responsive 76MM canon shot rounds that more often than not just bounced off the Tiger's thick skin.
I mention this because there is a battle scene where the Sherman Fury faces off against a Tiger and it is one beast of a battle. Today's film's with their outstanding Cinematography interlaced with leading edge visual effects lend an extreme realism that just works to the point of audience disbelief, and in "Fury", it worked quite well.
The ensemble acting effort by the crew of "Fury" was special, believable, and more than pulled its weight to further the narrative. In fact, the film went far beyond the obligatory character development, so we, the audience, might care about the outcome of these violent soldiers killing with impunity, and with a rare manic gusto. After one violent and frantic scene, we are treated to a relief comment that offered an introspect in the Fury's crew's incredible zeal to survive. Once the killing is done with great gore and violence, each crewman sounds off, and with with some measure of conviction: "Best Damn Job I ever had."
From this unbelievable violence to Boyd 'Bible' Swan, Shia LaBeouf's character, who aimed and fired the 76MM canon with great accuracy, who also kept God's word forever on his lips, we are treated to a complex character. Brad Pitt's Wardaddy, similarly, found time to wax biblical; not only did 'smite thine enemy' with an old testament wrath, did speak scripture but only to Shia LaBeouf's character, while managing to command an iron fist of devotion from the disparate factions of his well coordinated crew.
With Wardaddy, one never really knew whether his would act with virulent impunity or reveal a purposeful compassion. Brad Pitt's Wardaddy was complex, so was the film, and as a memorable exposé of the Hell of last days of a terrible war, the film worked well. In summation: "War is Hell", the film was damn good.
Rated R. Released on DVD January 27, 2015. 135 minutes of runtime.
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