October 27th, 2014

Fury, ladies and gentlemen, is a war film. Of this there can be no doubt. Some heavy spoilers ahead though, I would argue, nothing you can’t see coming from the opening few scenes…

Hard-bitten Brad Pitt steers a tank-crew of dehumanised veterans plus one raw recruit through a World War II shitty, gritty, and horrible even by the standards of World War II.  The crew are pretty horrible.  Being in a tank is really horrible.  Warfare is extremely horrible.

It’s a pretty good film, too.  Performances are strong.  The mud, the blood, the horrifying ruination are highly convincing.  The tank interior suitably claustrophobic.  The action is crunching.

But, for me, it was far from a great film.  It touts itself early on as unflinching, ultra-real.  It shoves the viewer’s face in the slaughter the way Brad Pitt shoves his raw recruit’s face in it.  Bodies are bulldozed into trenches.  Civilians dangle from lamp posts.  Corpses are splattered by tank tracks.  LOOK AT IT.  CORPSE.  TANK TRACKS.  SPLAT!  HOW HARDCORE IS THAT?

Well, yes, I suppose that is very hardcore, except that, as it goes along, the core of the film seemed to me to end up being very traditional. Tightly-knit group of tough veterans lead wide-eyed recruit through the war-torn country, dribbling casualties, to a violent and ennobling last stand is about the most classic 2nd World War film plot going, and Fury hits all the expected beats, but Saving Private Ryan, for all its occasional soft-centredness, seemed a more honest treatment of the material, with a lot more to say than Fury about warfare and what it does to the men caught up in it.  Fury lacked any theme, really.  Religion wandered in and out but to what purpose it was unclear.

There was negligible effort to treat the german soldiers like people, even up to the point that their tactics seem rather dumb – more intended to service the needs of the plot than to make any sense.  Unsupported Tiger crews drive straight at the enemy to expose their one weak spot.  Unsupported infantry swarm pointlessly into optimum mowing-down positions.  ‘I have a family!’ one prisoner shouts desperately in subtitles before Brad Pitt flings their photographs in the mud and forces his recruit to shoot him in the back.  This is deeply nasty at the time, except it’s presented in the long run to have been at worst grimly necessary.  The dehumanisation of the veterans is offered up as a real bad thing early on, but it’s not long before our reluctant conscience-ridden green recruit has been converted to a one-man slaughterhouse, literally dubbed ‘machine’ by his comrades, snarling ‘die motherfuckers’ as he mows down nazis by the dozen.  Nuanced it is not.

By the time of the climactic final battle, pretensions of deep hardcore-ness and realism seem to have been abandoned in favour of strangely traditional gung-ho noble last stand-ness.  Even the visuals and the editing go strangely dark and muddy, as though everyone ran out of ideas a bit.  Every significant death is accompanied by a little pause in the savage action for the crew and audience to contemplate the significance of that death.  Brad Pitt can get shot four times by a sniper and still slither back into the tank to growl his last lines.  ‘You’re a hero,’ murmur awestruck rescuers to the one survivor.  Finally, when we pull back from the ruined tank to show a veritable sea of German corpses, I felt I was invited to see this as a good, even a noble and heroic, even a religiously righteous thing.

It’s full of sound and fury, no doubt, and at times highly effective, but when the smoke clears I’m not sure Fury is signifying very much…

Posted in film and tv by Joe Abercrombie on October 27th, 2014.

15 comments so far

  • Sedulo says:

    I agree. We were also smirking a bit at the manner in which the lone survivor gets out of the war alive. REALLY?

  • Sedulo says:

    I thought it was solid, but nothing surprising. Some of the long battle scene left me wishing I was more into this. I never got very anxious. I wanted to…well, I liked the first mission, that had some more time for reactions; but the doomed standoff was not as stressful as I wanted it to feel. My friend explained that these guys had been fighting together since Africa so…they had no fear?

  • Dennis E Henley says:


    I was caught up with the movie while it was playing but felt really uncomfortable during the “occupation” scene where Brad Pitt tells his protege to take the girl to the bedroom or he would. And the girl suddenly understands English, grabs the kid’s hand and leads him away.

    After that, they become lovers until her convenient death.

    Another point of contention: when our young hero is discovered by the young German soldier who does not expose or kill him…is that supposed to show that even though all Germans up to that point have been evil, there is some good in the country?

    I think it’s an easy movie to get lost in and then you’ll scratch your head later and wonder what all the fuss was about.

    Dennis E. Henley
    Chicago, IL

  • Buster de Leon says:

    Pretty much what you expect from a modern day war movie. Next can you review Nightcrawler?

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Yes, indeed. We were invited to feel the girl was totally ok (indeed winsomely delighted) about having sex with the kid despite the implied extreme menace. Still, that was at least consistent with the message of war is utterly shit and these men have been brutalised by it beyond redemption. It was the moment after the interlude with the women – when the girl was immediately blown up by an air raid and left conveniently poking out of the rubble next to the broken piano for our hero to cry over – when I started to feel it was a film that would happily wear the brains-spattered clothes of harsh realism but would fall back on total melodrama when it counted. Which, indeed, it did rather.

  • Jens says:

    Definitely another of those “heroic” and self-righteous American WW2 films I don’t want (and need) to see. If a war film can’t convey that there are cusalties, wrongdoings and victims on all sides it’s not worth the disc or even a mere minute of my precious time. After Inglorious Basterds this apparently is another film the world doesn’t need.


  • Chris says:

    For wholesale destruction, make mine GODZILLA!

  • Richard Cowen says:

    Jens, I’d argue that Inglourious Basterds doesn’t fall into the heroic and self-righteous category. If anything, it portrays the titular Basterds as being psychopathic killers. In the scenes where they murder Germans, the audience is invited to empathise with the victims (okay, except maybe the final cinema scene).

    Like most Tarantino films, he gives all the characters, even the minor ones, defined personalities so that a) you care (either for or against) when they die, and b) you judge their killer for extinguishing that life.

    Sadly, I haven’t seen Fury yet (and may actually give it a miss, having read a few meh reviews), so I can’t compare it to either Inglourious Basterds or Saving Private Ryan.

  • Leper says:

    I recommend the Russian film Come and See and the German film Stalingrad from 1993 (not to be confused with others) for a more nuanced experience.

  • nikhforos says:

    Greetings Joe,

    I am a gigantic fan of your work, coming from Greece. I’ve read The First Law trilogy which was epic and I bloody loved it. Your writing skills are… are… f***ing magnificent would be a two-word sum up of my description to it.
    My big question is; will your other books be translate in Greek? (Only The First Law trilogy is.) I’d really like to read the rest of them.

    P.S Please answer, I’m dying to know. [Thanks for your attention]

  • Joe Abercrombie says:

    Afraid I’m not sure. No current deal for any books beyond the first three, I don’t think. Sorry…

  • Mike says:

    spot on review

    The action was excellent, the acting was mostly good, but the story and dialogue were mediocre.

  • AntMac says:

    Thanks for this review mate. I was wondering if I would go see it, but don’t think I should now.

    Though I have to say, point blank, the German people forced both world wars on the rest of us for the sake of their own egos . . . so anyone able to produce a “sea of German corpses” during the struggle was in cold actual fact, a “good, even a noble and heroic, even a religiously righteous thing” because it advanced the moment we could liberate the people the Germans were killing in their industrial murder camps*. Q.E.D.

    *not to mention Leningrad they surrounded and killed a million and a half people in during a three year period. And so on and so forth.

  • Ronin says:

    Hi there,i just started to read half a king and i can say,after looting the village(no spoiler) i m addicted to this great awesome piece of work.
    I m already sad in thought of i will soon finish reading it,please kick your publisher to release the second book as soon as they can in germany pleaseee! One question at the end: Could it be,that you were inspired by the baltic sea,when making the shattered sea? 😉
    Greetings from Lubeck keep the awesomework up congratulaions!

  • paul hart says:

    Nasty on all sorts of levels; some intentional…

    Tanks in world war two didn’t fire on the move.

    There, got that off my chest.

    So, the ballet like set piece between the Shermans and the Tiger wouldn’t have happened. Neither would the entrenched German anti-tank guns missing the barn, no not the barn, the whole country, with their 75mm banjos.

    Oh, and the SS Panzergrenadier battalion and the the tank at the end? I’m thinking of parallels with Joe’s excellent books for stupid characters – but, thinking about them – there aren’t any that stupid.

    So, I can’t.

    It wouldn’t have happened like that.

    Even at the start of the war.

    Even if they were French. Or Italian.

    However, I loved the use of real and real-looking kit. Spot on. And the fact that the Allies killed prisoners too. Yes they did. A lot.

    Victories have been written by the victors since Julius Caeser exterminated half of Gaul.

    When I was a sprog in the RAF, I spoke with a para shortly after the end of the Falklands conflict – executions of Argentinian prisoners took place then too. Sorry – it always has.

    Joe’s fight scenes captures that other worldness, crazy out-of-kilter sense that happens it those situations.

    Thanks Joe – I’ve read your books from the start (shame admission following – received the first ‘The Blade Itself’ via the sci-fi/fantasy bookclub, and it remained unread for a year. When I started – my goodness.

    Steven Pacey’s audio versions enhance them even more.

    Thanks Joe!

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