This past weekend, I saw Brad Pitt’s new movie, Fury. At first glance, Fury appears to be simply another generic war movie, but in taking a closer look, Fury is a story that contains depth and illustrates the horrors of war and how the mayhem transforms all involved. Spoilers ahead.
In doing this review, my goal is to break down the different story elements and plot points to show how and why they make the story work. This is as much an activity in story structure analysis for myself as it is a movie review.
All successful stories contain certain key moments that are designed to make the story work. They key moments are the hook, setup, first plot point in which everything changes, the response to this, the midpoint contextual shift, the attack, a second plot point that sends the story hurling towards a final conclusion.
Fury’s hook sinks deep fast. We see a diplated battle field complete with dead bodies, burning tanks, and a German on a horse. As the horse and soldier near one of the tanks we are given that first “oh shit” moment in which Pitt as a savage and grim soldier dives from a hidden spot on board his tank and sinks a bayonet into the German soldier, killing him and simultaneously grabbing our attention. Who is this man and where did he gain his warrior instint.
We are quickly introduced to the rest of Pitt’s tank crew and though these three indivduals are common war movie tropes, they serve as a contextual landscape for the main character who will be revealed later. We see Shia Lebeouf’s highly religious hand of god type character “Bible”, Jon Bernthal’s savage and crazy animal of a man “Coon-ass”, and Michael Pena’s general all around nice guy “Gordo.” While these three characters are all the most basis of tropes they are good representations of the different paths war can break a man. They’ve all been through hell and their psyche’s are cracked, flawed. They are men pushed to the brink.
In the next part of the movie we are introduced to Logan Lerman’s baby faced newbie, a man brand new to the army and as of yet unspoiled by the war. This immediately creates tension within the crew. They’ve lost the guy he’s replacing and he represents everything that they used to be but are no longer. This innocence is always recognized in the military and quickly stamped out. I’m not sure why but I think its because soldiers see something in the new soldiers that they used to have. I don’t think its envy, but more a recognition that creates resentment. But this hostility also serves another purpose, it hardens the fresh recruit ensuring that he has a chance to survive a war that would otherwise destroy him. In this portion of the movie Lerman’s character is resistant to these changes and retains his ideals but the change is inevitable.
The firs plot point of the story offers a poignant contextual shift. Pitt’s character forces Lerman to kill and unarmed German soldier who had already surrendered. It is at this moment, the Lerman’s character realizes that he is changed. He spends the next 25% of the movie reacting to this. This second 25% is in my opinion the weakest part of the story. While others may find it a defining character moment, I found it clunky and prolonged. We are given a dinner scene between Pitt, Gordan, two German women, and the rest of the crew that comes across as painfully akward as it can. The purpose of the scene is to set up the contextual shift. It’s purpose is to create the right circumstances for Lerman’s character to change his point of mind. It works, but feels forced to me.
This leads to the mid-point shift.
Having established a brief relationship with one of the German women, Gordon’s life changes shortly after the dinner scene. Gordon and crew are outside when the young woman dies in an artillery attack. It is here that we are supposed to accept Gordon’s sudden transformation from reluctant soldier to blood thirsty killer. I can see why they did this but I think the setup could have been so much more.
In the next scenes, we see Gordon’s character drastically changed, gunning German’s down in his righteous fury. They have been given a tack. Hold the crossroads and keep the supply lines safe. IThe other tanks in the group are destroyed in an epic battle between the 4 outgunned American tanks and a superior, heavily armered German Tiger II tank. Only Pitt’s Fury makes it out of this battle alive. All of this leads to a final conceptual shift that gives us the grand finale.
This second plot point occurs when Gordon’s character spots a SS platton of around 200-300 German soldiers. He rushes back to the tank crew to inform them of the overwhelming numbers. Pitt’s tough guy sergent decides to stay and fight based on his personal hatred for the SS which is forshadowed throughout the movie. Pitt tells the rest of the crew to leave, but Gordon’s character steps up and courageously offers to stay. The rest of the crew join them and they all know their fate is sealed.
The conclusion, while predicatble gives us an amazing battle scene that feels clausterphobic as the Germans close in the disabled tank. The end comes to it’s inevitable conclusion.
All in all, Fury is a character analysis on the horrors of war and how a man can be twisted by them. While it won’t be remembers as the classic that Saving Private Ryan is, I loved the movie.