(On Cable TV, June 2015) It’s difficult to watch Fury without thinking that war movies always glorify combat even when they firmly take the position that “War is Hell”: Truffault’s assertion that there are no anti-war movies suggests that even the least heroic war films still portray the adrenaline of combat in ways that could be construed as exciting. Fury certainly tries to straddle the line: As a warts-and-all examination of the life of an American tank crew in the closing days of World War 2, it’s alternately merciless, heroic, brutal, exhilarating, miserable and mesmerizing. The Americans aren’t portrayed in a flattering light (the film’s most uncomfortable sequence is a simple conversation around a dinner table, as we are not sure that Something Terrible will happen to the German mother-and-daughter pair hosting the conquering soldiers.) Only a handful of combat sequences pepper the film, and I suppose that I’m showing my colors as a war-mongering moviegoer when I complain that I would have liked to see a few more. Much of the film is spent with the small band of soldiers fighting inside their tank “Fury”, and their interactions as a new soldier replaces one killed in battle. Brad Pitt is nothing short of mesmerizing as a hardened veteran, leading his team through terrible experiences, sometimes pushing their faces into the ensuing ugliness. Much like his previous End of Watch, writer/director David Ayer aims for realism, and the result is often hard to stomach. Still, Fury doesn’t really want to be an anti-war film: The action sequences are thrilling, many of the usual war movie clichés are presented again (albeit with a grimy patina) and the actions of the soldiers, reprehensible as they may be, are presented with a weird homage to the veteran experience. (as in; “had you been there, you would have done the same”) It may this tension between how to portray war that limits Fury from being as fully realized as it could be, either as a war action thriller or as a definitive statement on war’s toll. It’s too terrible to be fully entertaining, and too entertaining to be fully terrible. Still, Fury works well in five-minute increments, and some of the scenes and images are memorable. The subject matter is unusual enough to be fascinating on its own, but the execution on a strictly visual level is incredible. As for the muddled theme, well –sometimes, a film is worth seeing for its contradictions.
(Video on Demand, February 2013) Writer/director David Ayer has basically worked his entire career so far in the “LAPD thriller” genre, but the surprise with End of Watch is how the film seems determined to re-invent the police drama, in presentation if not necessarily in content. Seen from the street-level perspective of two LAPD officers, End of Watch deliberately creates its cinema-vérité atmosphere through the use of enough handheld camera footage as so not to distract when the entire film turns out shot more conventionally. This appeal to realism is reinforced by actions that go against the grain of how movie policemen usually behave, along with dialogue that sounds improvised and a lack of detail regarding the big picture of the film’s plot. The episodic plotting gets ludicrously flashy at times (our heroes get involved with enough drug stashes, imperilled kids, human trafficking rings, car chases and shootouts to qualify for the evening news several times over) but the direction of the film keeps everything grounded. It helps that in-between the action sequences, End of Watch spends time a lot of time with its characters and so ends up focusing on their day-to-day reality. Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t initially convincing as a tough police officer, but he gets more credible as the film advances. Still, it’s Micahel Peña who steals the show in a typically compelling performance. By End of Watch’s conclusion, it becomes clear that this is (unlike much of Ayer’s work-to-date) a film that celebrates the work of ordinary policemen: there are no corrupt cops here, no half-gangbangers, no superheroes: just two guys with badges, trying to do their jobs and make the world safer for their kids.