The Worst First Day At Work Ever is usually a rather pleasant cinematic or literary trope, wherein a usually hopelessly naive young thing starts a new job and finds them up against all manner of terrible obstacles, either amusing or terrible. It usually ends well and is generally a bit of a character building exercise for the main character, in this case the unfortunate young clerk, Norman who has never even seen inside a tank before and is now expected to join a battle hardened crew on a dangerous mission into the German countryside, as all the dreadfulness gradually quashes their last remaining vestiges of naivety and reveals them to actually be a strong, resourceful type of person.
Fury is just such another film but at the same time, it takes this hoary old trope, skewers it in the FACE (and in fact one of the first things that happens in the film is someone getting stabbed in the face so there you go), drives over it with a tank, shoots it many, many, MANY times, throws a grenade at its head and then turns it completely upside down. If every other main protagonist of a Worst First Day At Work Ever film saw Fury together in a special screening, they’d definitely all come out saying ‘Well, damn. Thank God I’m not THAT guy.’
I’ve actually been excited about Fury for AGES. I’m a bit of a sucker for a grimy Brad Pitt turn, you see and I also really, REALLY love tanks and films about the final months of World War Two when the Allies fought their way towards Berlin. It’s just such a desperate and fascinating period of history and one with so many stories to be told; I could never tire of it.
However, based on what I knew about the film’s production and also the extremely over excited trailer, I was expecting Fury to be a rip roaring gung-ho adventure with a hipster haired Brad Pitt and his team careering merrily all over war torn Germany, distributing chocolate bars and nylon stockings to charming little ragamuffins before heading on to Berlin to wave a flag around on top of the Reichstag.
I was so wrong.
It’s actually so much better than that and is in fact brilliantly, disturbingly, profoundly bleak and serves as a perfect counterpoint to the events of Downfall, which is similar in tone, delivers much the same message about the end of the war and was, of course, all happening at the exact same time (in fact, I wondered at one point if the jokes about Hitler and chocolate might have been a reference to Downfall, but possibly I’m overthinking things here). Personally, I found it hard to forget that while Wardaddy (Pitt’s battle scarred character) and his men are trundling through the mud and stark abject horror of the beleaguered and debris (both mechanical and human) strewn German countryside, Hitler is pathetically shuffling around in his bunker like a half crazed and wounded animal, knowing that he’s already well and truly lost and it’s only a matter of time before the Allies come for him. In fact, it might even be that Hitler is already dead and burnt to an almost crisp in the grounds of the Chancellery, which makes the events of the film all the more tragic and pointless.
However, despite all the mud and blood and misery and woe, Fury is also strangely beautiful in places. The soundtrack, for instance, is sublime, especially when there is an echo of those creepy old German SS marching songs (with the weird ‘hah hah hah’ laugh they often have – what IS that about?), while the cinematography is top notch, creating a miserable vista of twisted trees, dark skies and battle scarred fields. An especially beautiful moment was when dozens of fighter planes fly above the tanks, their vapour trails silently criss crossing the azure sky as they make their way to Berlin, while a young woman in a wedding dress sadly wends her way, hollow eyed and dead in spirit, through an immense crowd of German refugees fleeing the destruction. As my husband pointed out, it added, along with the distant glow of an unseen burning city, a sense of a million untold stories all unfolding in those last desperate days of total war.
As Wardaddy observes at one point in the film ‘Ideals are peaceful, history is violent’ and really that sets the tone for the entire exercise (and sent a proper shiver down my spine too because wow, yes). This is not a film about heroism, although there is plenty of that, it is a film about war and how it crushes and transforms those engaged in it – and not always for the better.
In a nutshell: if you loved Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers then you’ll probably also really love this. If you’re looking for a patriotic action flick with lots of heroics and a nice happy ending then I’d probably steer clear (although really you should watch it anyway as it’s REALLY really good). On a historical note, I’d also like to say that I was pleased that for ONCE, a film addresses the fact that German and Nazi were not synonymous and that furthermore, there was a difference between ordinary German soldiers (often conscripted everyday guys defending their country and most probably NOT Nazis and just as desperate for the war to end as Wardaddy and his men are) and the SS (evil bastards who definitely WERE Nazis). As I’ve mentioned a few times before, too many writers, film makers and game makers conflate all of these into one faceless evil mass of enemies when in fact it’s much more complicated and nuanced than that – Fury doesn’t do this and I have to say that it made a refreshing change.
Seriously, this is an AMAZING film and definitely one of Brad Pitt’s finest pieces of acting but be prepared to be thoroughly shocked by it as it is probably one of the most uncompromisingly violent and depressing war films that I have ever seen and not the slightest bit heartwarming. As Wardaddy himself would probably agree: there is no happy ending.
(I’ve had this post saved and ready to go on my Scrivener for WEEKS but wasn’t sure about posting it as it seemed, I dunno, a bit more BLEAK than my usual fare. However, in the spirit of the new year, I felt that I ought to post about what was for me anyway, the best film of 2014. Other bloggers seem to be writing about their favourite lipsticks of last year etc so I figured I’d share my favourite brutal war film and maybe tomorrow I’ll tell you about my favourite history book as well. Also, I’d really like it if my husband sorted his hair out so that it is the same as Brad Pitt’s as it’s rather nice. I’m also seriously thinking about having ‘Ideals are peaceful. History is violent’ tattooed on my person at some point as what could be more perfect and TRUE?)
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