And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me.
Isaiah 6: 8
If a man loves the world, the love of the
Father ain’t in him. For all in the
world, lust of the flesh, lust of the
eyes, the pride of life, is not of the
Father. But of the world.
Don “Wardaddy” Collier quoting John 2:15
I saw the movie Fury with my family on Saturday. It is a superb, albeit grueling, look at an American tank crew in Germany in April 1945. Go below for my review. The usual caveat as to spoilers applies.
Realism and Religion are the themes of this movie. Viewers offended by frequent use of the f-bomb and the gruesome depiction of what combat can do on human bodies should steer clear of this film.
Brad Pitt portrays Staff Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier, the leader of the tank crew of Fury, a Sherman tank. He and his crew have been together since North Africa. Pitt is fluent in German and has a great hatred for the SS. He has promised his crew that he will do his best to bring them back alive. Shia LaBeouf is gunner Boyd “Bible” Swan. He makes numerous religious references and believes that the fate of the crew is in the hands of God. He does not join in with the carousing of the other crew members and studies his Bible when not on duty. Jon Bernthal has the role of Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis who is the loader/mechanic and the crudest member of the crew. Michael Pena is Trini “Gordo” Garcia, the driver, a Mexican-American from Chicago, who crosses himself before the major combat sequence.
The movie begins with the death of a crew member, the first of the veteran crew to die. His replacement is Norman “Machine” Ellison (Logan Lerman) a clerk typist who has been in the army a grand total of eight weeks and now finds himself, to his dismay, becoming part of a tank crew with zero training. (This was not unusual. The American replacement system during World War II was a disgrace, and men with little training often found themselves placed in veteran combat units and tossed immediately into combat. The casualty rate among such replacements was as appalling as it was unsurprising.) The men belong to the 2nd Armored Division, nicknamed “Hell on Wheels”.
The film is visually striking and captures perfectly the atmosphere in Germany as World War 2 is winding its way to its bloody conclusion in Europe. From realistic armor, to massed bombing fleets flying high overhead, to accurate uniforms, every aspect of the film transports us back 69 years ago. The actors in the film do not look like actors but combat soldiers: exhausted, dirty, with constant life and death tension prematurely aging them.
It is a very trite and very true observation that war brings out the very worst and the very best in men, and that is a subtext of the film. The point of view character is replacement Ellison who is appalled initially to be placed in a tank with men who seem to be only cold hearted killers. This point is underlined when Ellison hesitates to machine gun teen-age German Volksturm (Militia) troops in an ambush, only to have one of the tanks in the Fury platoon knocked out and the men killed by one of the teenagers using a Panzerfaust. A furious Collier then forces Ellison, to his horror, to take part in the execution of a German soldier who pleads for his life.
However, Ellison gradually bonds with the other members of the crew as he participates in a mission with them to capture a town. He sees German teenagers who have refused to fight, boys and girls, and who have been hung by the SS with signs proclaiming they are cowards. (I wish I could say that factoid was fictional, but it was all too common a sight in the closing days of the Third Reich.) In the town a Volksturm unit led by an SS officer surrenders. We see that the “troops” are boys and girls who look to be about 12-14. Collier asks a German civilian if the SS officer is the one who has been hanging kids. When the civilian says “Ya.”, Collier immediately machine guns the officer.
After the battle Collier takes Ellison to a room in the townhall and shows him the Nazi leadership who have committed suicide rather than surrender. Collier then says that “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” He then takes Ellison into a building where he has spotted a German female, a woman in her thirties, who seems to be hiding someone. The person she is hiding turns out to be a young German woman in her early twenties. Collier asks for hot water so he can clean up and gives the woman in her thirties six eggs to fry off. Ellison begins to play the piano and the German young woman smiles and sings while he plays. They go off to a bedroom. When the older woman questions Collier about this, he says that they are young and alive. They all then sit down to a meal which is interrupted by the rest of the crew. Travis and Garcia have gotten drunk and had sex with a prostitute. Swan says grace for the meal. The whole atmosphere is tense and demonstrates how war has made it impossible for these men to have a normal meal with these two women.
The meal ends when Collier and his men are summoned for a new mission. Before the crew of Fury leaves town, an artillery barrage shatters the building, killing the young woman. Ellison is dragged from her body by Travis who mocks him saying that he can do her no good unless he is Jesus Christ. After he sobers up, Travis apologizes for this and other insults, saying that he knows Ellison is a good man, although he is not sure if any of the rest of the crew, including him, are.
The mission that Fury and the other tanks in its platoon are assigned is to occupy a crossroads and stop an enemy offensive aimed at the undefended supply column of the division. On the way to the crossroads, the tanks are ambushed by a Tiger Tank with the rest of the platoon destroyed before the crew of Fury are able to get a rear shot at the Tiger, the only location in which a Sherman’s cannon can penetrate the armor of a Tiger. (The film begins by noting that American tankers took horrendous losses because American tanks were simply outclassed by the best German tanks. This is quite true, the Army deciding early in the War to go with overwhelming quantity rather than quality when it came to armor, and a lot of American tankers paid a dire price for this decision.)
Fury gets to the crossroads and promptly runs over a mine, losing a tank tread. The crew is trying to repair the tank when Ellison, who has been placed on lookout duty, reports that an SS infantry battalion, 300-500 troops, is coming right at them. The rest of the crew decide that they have to run, reasoning that their disabled tank can’t stop a battalion. Collier gives them permission to leave, but states that he is going to stay with Fury and fight it out. The mission must be accomplished, come what may. One by one, beginning with Ellison, the rest of the crew decide to stay and fight with him, knowing that this will almost certainly be their last fight. At this point Boyd “Bible” Swan makes manifest the religious theme that has been present from the beginning, quoting Isaiah:
Collier and his men have been fighting a largely merciless war against an evil foe and it has left a terrible mark on each of them, but it was not a pointless struggle, and that is the meaning behind the cited scripture. The sacrifice they are about to make has temporal and eternal significance.
I think I will stop the review here. I encourage people to see the movie. It is not for kids or the sensitive, but it is a grittily realistic war film and has an important message: even in the midst of tumult and violence God is ever near us if we call upon Him in humility and hope in the midst of our travail. As Kipling put it:
The tumult and the shouting dies—
The Captains and the Kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.