With the exception of the satirical INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (2009) from Quentin Tarantino, there haven't been many serious War Movies worth mentioning after Clint Eastwood's powerful two hit combo, the biographical movies FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (2006) and LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (2006), showed audiences the emotionally devastating dual nature of war along with the famed director's last gasps of credibility before he talked politics to a chair and dedicated the rest of his career to making manipulative Oscar Bait movies.
No matter what the chosen historical conflict was, War Movies just haven't been the same ever since the recent War On Terror became the genre's focus. The drop in quality isn't due to the politics of the divisive subject matter but rather, it's the intentions that changed the genre as a whole.
After THE HURT LOCKER (2008) proved that something as cluttered as it was had a great shot at winning a bunch of awards as long as the words "Iraq War" were somewhere to be found in its summary, War Movies stopped trying to entertain audiences and decided to guilt trip awards bodies into giving them all the goddamned prizes. THE HURT LOCKER itself isn't that bad a movie despite being hampered down by its rather disjointed pile of plot threads but it unfortunately caused a ripple effect of copycats that boiled the War On Terror to its most basic elements, leading to laughable garbage like AMERICAN SNIPER (2014) getting nominated for Best Picture even it had more in common with the 80's GI: JOE Saturday morning cartoons than it did with a wartime documentary covering the invasion of Iraq.
War Movies shouldn't always be serious dramas nor do they have to limit themselves to being satirical anti-war messages, even if doing both has given audiences great movies in the past but as of late, there hasn't been a War Movie that I would describe as "engaging" or at the least, "entertaining." Art is indeed subjective and liking AMERICAN SNIPER doesn't make you dumb but personally, War Movies stopped being good when they started chasing trophies.
Which brings me to David Ayer's FURY (2014).
In FURY, a tank crew under Wardaddy's (Brad Pitt) command does all it can to survive Nazi Germany's defiant final stand during the last days of the European conflict in 1945. With a story as simple as that, FURY is the edgy graphic novel while every other recent War Movie not directed by Kathryn Bigelow would be the best selling Tom Clancy book of the week. By this logic, it would be easy to assume that movies like AMERICAN SNIPER would win in terms of quality and on the surface it's nothing more than a dumb action movie but as far as I'm concerned, it's actually the opposite and there's a whole lot more to this particular movie than tank fights and excessive F-Bombs.
What makes FURY stand tall among its contemporaries is its simplicity and in a time when War Movies keep trying to inspire patriotism by means of excessive flag waving and heroics subtitled by the poster friendly phrase "Based on a true story," FURY's decision to stick to historical fiction and action scenes is a godsend. While FURY may lack the real world connections AMERICAN SNIPER proudly shows off, it makes up for in humanity and honesty. FURY is the kind of movie that's just there to emphasize that war is hell and nothing more. It's not there to rake up recognition or to inspire people into dry-humping flags because that's not what a War Movie should do; that's a job for Propaganda Movies.
Rather than fill its cast with a squad of forgettable soldiers who are led by the walking metaphor of American Patriotism, FURY instead gives us ordinary enlisted men who'd rather go back home than die for a flag which makes them all the more relatable. These days, War Movies tend to use their characters as nothing more than mouthpieces for nationalism at best and jingoism at worst while FURY instead shows the fears and pressures soldiers face in combat just like how CROSS OF IRON (1977), a great but nearly forgotten War Movie whose influence is obvious in FURY all the way from narrative themes to end credits, did back in its day. This is the rare kind of War Movie where survival, not heroism, is the name of the game: where ideals mean nothing when the bullets start to rain and when your friend could be the next one to bite the dust. The crew that drives the titular tank aren't heroes or patriots fighting the good fight, they're just regular people who don't give a fuck about some greater cause because they just want the war to be over and done with.
Yet even if FURY has a bleak atmosphere, it never becomes mean spirited or depressing. Balanced with the hardships of war are the lighter and more humane moments during the lulls between skirmishes and while these scenes may never be considered Oscar worthy, they speak more volumes than any Oscar Bait movie on the War On Terror could in its entire run time. The normalcy and crassness in both the dialogue and the characters' actions may be different from the heroics we're used to but this makes FURY all the more approachable: whenever the tankers curse out loud in frustration or when they make dumb jokes about who'd fuck them for a chocolate bar, the easier it is to believe that Bible (Shia LaBeouf) or Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal) could've been real people you'd bump into at the local bar. Then again, gritty squad dynamics have always been David Ayer's forte as evidenced even in his weaker movies such as SABOTAGE (2014), so this kind of characterization in FURY shouldn't be much of a surprise.
Contrast this to Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper), the faultless God Of Sniping in AMERICAN SNIPER whose entire motivation for doing anything is the word "America." Granted, Chris Kyle was a real life patriotic soldier who sadly died in his hometown after his tour of duty was concluded but the movie based on his military experiences painted him as someone so larger-than-life that the creators should've given him eagle wings and a star spangled halo just to emphasize how goddamned perfect he was because a two hour adaptation of his biography obviously wasn't enough.
FURY isn't without its flaws, as seen in how it just skims over some of its bigger themes and also in its final act when the movie suddenly shifts from being a bleak war drama into an all-out action movie where questionable military tactics from all sides take center stage but to say that FURY is unappreciated is being nice. When it was released, FURY just made enough to break even but it wasn't the smash hit that its producers were hoping for. This could be faulted on the movie being leaked during the infamous Sony hack or maybe it's simply because audiences don't really care much for World War 2 movies anymore but FURY is something that should be given a chance to say its piece.
It's a refreshingly brutal take on an old genre that's made accessible to pretty much anyone who gives a damn about movies and it thankfully lacks the pretentious nature War Movies have been suffering as of late, guaranteeing that while it won't reach the artistic heights movies like APOCALYPSE NOW (1979) have done in the past, FURY will definitely be more than just passable entertainment. FURY may be rougher and a hell lot meaner than almost every other movie in the genre but it gets the job done and is something that will surely leave a mark on those curious enough to see it.