Fury (2014)

★★★★

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Fury PosterDirector: David Ayer

Release Date: October 17th, 2014 (US); October 22nd, 2014 (UK)

Genre: Action; Drama; War

Starring: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña

War is a nasty business. Of course, contemplating the nastiness of war isn’t a new undertaking, nor is it something that Fury director David Ayer feels compelled to shirk away from. His film is really quite horrendous. We see limbless bodies and bodiless limbs more often than we see rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds of 1945 Nazi Germany. Ayer’s intimate tale isn’t a fresh concept to the silver screen and it has absolutely been done better before, but there is a lot to admire here.

As World War II nears its conclusion, a Sherman tank troupe commanded by US Army sergeant Don Collier (Brad Pitt) is hurtled into the bloody doldrums of battle in Germany. Fighting through urban wastelands and disfigured countrysides, the ‘Fury’ group of five must survive via a combination of camaraderie and brute force, all the while depositing innocence at each rotation of their vehicle’s caterpillar track.

Ayer localises a grand story and his film is all the better for it. Often, the key to success in the war genre is engaging an audience in the plight of a few whilst also acknowledging the struggle of many. Fury manages this, no doubt aided by a stringently focused narrative that follows a particular group of soldiers. It’s their story and we’re always in their presence, allowing time (well over two hours of it) for us to empathise with the characters. And while the camera never ventures more than a few feet from at least one of the five, Ayer’s induction of a heavy and wearisome tone relentlessly captures the universal toil of war.

These characters don’t write the guidelines on positive morality either. In fact, their contribution to the Allied war effort has flurried any goodness purveyed by Collier and his crew. They each have a nickname — fittingly Collier’s is Wardaddy. That is not to say the man heralds a thirst for battle, rather it highlights Wardaddy’s efficiency in dark turmoil. (“Do as you’re told, don’t get close to anyone”). Brad Pitt plays him without immediate discernibility, casting doubt not over the sergeant’s motives, but over his methods. Ayer’s quintessential heroes are nothing of the sort. There are no good guys, only perceived bad guys.

The remainder of the group bear roles that are more clearly defined: Technician Boyd “Bible” Swan is the devoted religious type; Corporal Trini “Gordo” Garcia steers the tank with eccentricity; PFC Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis lacks moderation; and Private Norman Ellison carries the newbie status, a kid lost amongst a conflict in which he shouldn’t be fighting. Logan Lerman exudes ordinariness as Norman, reminding us of war’s infecting bullet wounds on humanity. Walking Dead alumni Jon Bernthal is also terrific as the gruff Coon-Ass but it’s Shia LaBeouf who wows more than any other. Scrubbing the stigma of celebrity from his face and replacing it with rotten dirt, LaBeouf displays a great deal of restraint, his eyes never far from filling with tears fuelled by a scarred mind. It turns out he can act, and act well.

LaBeouf’s character is the agent through which Ayer introduces a religious thread, one that doesn’t wholly endear itself to the narrative but does contribute towards an emotive punch. These faith-based overtones aren’t distracting as they only rear occasionally, and despite manifesting as a tad contrived, they do represent an attempt to manoeuvre proceedings away from any potential muscle bound machoness of battle. Indeed, the film manages to extract a large helping of connectivity from the audience through solemnity, a theme that runs along the piece like one of Nazi Germany’s seemingly endless mud trails. This helpless sobriety is first summed up in statement relayed by Jason Isaacs’ army Captain (“Why don’t they just quit?”), before revealing itself plainly in an extended Inglorious Basterds-esque dining room scene rightly devoid of any Tarantino quirk.

After 90 minutes of gruesome despair, the outing suddenly shifts its gaze in the direction of a more action-packed conclusion. The final act essentially wears the hallmark of a western standoff, trading cowboy hats for leather helmets. Granted in its final half hour Fury still maintains a gritty realism but this divergence in tone might not appease all. Tank jousts do occur before the lengthy concluding sequence, but frequently end in a matter of minutes. These battles are arduous in their execution, just as they should be, and do not glorify the mechanical face of war at all, whereas it could be argued that the long, underdog-ish rallying cry denoted in the final act does invite a semblance of glorification.

Technically, the film is a powerhouse. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov turns the English countryside (where shooting primarily took place) into a bleak, putrefying Nazi Germany at the end of its tether. Two scenes stand out especially: a beautiful opening shot that patiently stalks a lone horseman as he tramples over smoky ruins and comes face to face with the fragility of tanks, and a dread filled moment nearer the end that involves a collection of simultaneously marching and chanting enemy troops. This uncompromising style meshes wonderfully with Steven Price’s score and pinpoint sound editing, and comes as close as any film to achieving the fist-clenching ambience of Saving Private Ryan.

It is certainly not as good as Spielberg’s aforementioned masterpiece, but not many outings born from this particular genre are. Fury is a visceral and effective retelling of war at its most desperate and least forgiving. If nothing else, it’s an example of high standard utility filmmaking.

Fury - Cast

Images credit: IMP Awards, Collider

Images copyright (©): Columbia Pictures

Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

★★★★★

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

Release Date: October 25th, 2013 (US limited); November 22nd, 2013 (UK)

Genre: Drama; Romance

Starring: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux

Adèle ambles hurriedly along a busy high street. The sun gleams on her fidgety demeanour as the apprehensive student makes her way to meet up with a guy. They don’t have much in common, if anything at all, but he appears nice enough. Do you believe it? Not really. As she crosses the road, Adèle’s anxious glance catches a calmer, more assured one. We don’t know it yet, but the recipient is Emma and the pair seem to share an instant, intriguing connection. Do you believe that? Absolutely.

Blue is the Warmest Colour has been shrouded in controversy since release, partly brought on by a selective reaction to certain scenes, and partly accentuated in a row between director and actor in regards to their working environment. Forget all that for a moment. Not because those concerns are invalid, rather it seems unfair that a film so honest and captivating should be tainted in any way. Regardless of any hostility, actors Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux are utterly entrancing in director Abdellatif Kechiche’s simple story that flourishes in its beautiful depiction of love, maturity, desire and emotion.

In her late-teens, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is someone who looks and acts uninspired. She drifts through classes at school, ones she possesses a passion for but can’t get into because the teacher isn’t right. Even hanging out with friends is awkward and confused. When it doesn’t work out with a boyfriend, her love for food leads to a comfort eating embrace. It’s at a crossroads in her life, literally and metaphorically, when sparks begin to ignite. As Emma (Léa Seydoux), blue hair and all, glimpses wonderingly back towards Adèle — sun prodding the direction of her vision — the film’s engines begin to rev. With the exception of one or two charming exchanges, all that preceded becomes inconsequential. Adèle rhymes, “No words? No melody? It’s not my thing.” Well the melody has just kicked in.

One of the prevailing successes of Blue is the Warmest Colour is how unassuming it is. Indeed, we want to know more about Adèle and Emma’s relationship, but the film never becomes abrasive towards its characters and scenes are allowed to play out fully and eloquently. Of course in doing so the three-hour runtime becomes essential rather than optional. Normally I’d groan at anything north of two hours, and in all honesty the prospect of watching this felt tiresome. However: the fluid nature of the dialogue; the immersive delivery from both Adèle and Léa; the contrasting elements of each character; the way that the cinematography ensures a sense of immediacy — much in the same vein as Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy does — all combines to shun that three-hour hurdle into non-existence. You could spend a lot longer with these people and not become bored.

And it is all about the people. Adèle delves in literature, delighting in French and English and adores children as much as she detests shellfish and strawberry milkshakes. On the other hand, Emma carries a greater intellectual air about her, studying Fine Arts as a student (she’s a little older than Adèle) and mingling with similarly cultivated friends. In fact, the film in general has a European art-house underbelly going on: there’s street music with odd instruments; rallies supporting sexuality and protests over cuts; philosophical discussions entailing Picasso. Yet it still maintains a breath of commonality. You don’t mind the artsiness because it’s their artsiness, and its appeal actually starts to beckon after a short time. Having said that, the film does slightly teeter on the edge when it’s not Adèle and Emma swapping these conversations — they’re sometimes replaced by other characters who we don’t know well enough and as a result come across a tad overbearingly.

Inevitably the discussion over how necessary the extended scenes of intimacy between Adèle and Emma will arise. One sequence, which clocks in at around eight minutes, is far too long. Is it controversial? Maybe. But from a viewing perspective, its innate longevity actually removes the viewer from the genuine, heartfelt love-story which both pre and succeeds it. Thereafter said scenes are shorter, but probably still linger unnecessarily. It’s a shame because the film is so much better than some of the backlash those eleven or 12 minutes have generated, made even more annoying as the source of much of the controversy isn’t really a narrative necessity anyway.

The film is speckled with truly emotional moments throughout: from an upset Adèle being exposed to uncertainty in the midst of her classroom, a place of refuge, to a tale of two family dinners, one outgoing and the other conservative. As their existence together progresses, jealousy sets in and differences clash: this notion of fulfilment in life takes hold as Emma encourages Adèle to enter the world of writing, whereas Adèle sees happiness in continuity. There’s an inherently tragic undertone at times, and in a way the narrative mirrors that of Romeo and Juliet — in a bar, their second meeting and first magnetic interaction shares a whole host of similarities with how Romeo and Juliet first encounter each another.

Both actors are phenomenal in their depictions. Adèle Exarchopoulos, a relative newcomer to French cinema, shines in particular as Adèle. It’d be a shame for her not to pick up an Oscar nomination because there’s nobody in the past year who has delivered a more eclectic performance, beginning succinctly before unravelling a diverse range of emotions along the way. Her on-screen partner, BAFTA Rising Star nominee Léa Seydoux — who you might have seen in Inglorious Basterds or Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol recently — is also tremendous in her occasionally mysterious and always binding portrayal, as her character often acts as the anchor for Adèle’s insecurities.

Sometimes words aren’t enough, not unless they’re being exchanged between Adèle and Emma. It’s not an entirely groundbreaking narrative drama, but it is honestly and wonderfully executed. Blue most certainly is the warmest colour, however, if there’s any justice in the world, this film’s future will rain Academy gold.

The Counsellor (Out November 15th, 2013)

A new image released by Entertainment Weekly.
A new image released by Entertainment Weekly.

Talk about star power.

I have no idea how I managed to miss this one when it was announced. The Counsellor is an upcoming thriller film about a lawyer who gets embroiled in the world of drug trafficking, perhaps a little further than he had hoped, and is set to be released on October 25th in the United States and on November 15th here in the United Kingdom. It sounds like your average crime drama, right? Well, check this out.

The film will be directed by none other than Ridley Scott (who recently enlightened our minds with Prometheus), a man who consistently blends out good to exceptional films and whose dedication to perfecting the visual element of his work is second-to-none. Spanning five decades, his directorial career has cultivated films such as Alien (1970s), Blade Runner (1980s), Thelma & Louise (1990s), Gladiator (2000s) and Prometheus (2010s), as mentioned beforehand, and it does not seem to be slowing down at any rate, with Scott having released almost one film per year since 2000. In my eyes, Scott is one of a handful of directors who the audience can put their wholehearted faith in to create a hugely enjoyable and commercially successful film, in any situation.

The cast of The Counsellor is composed of Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem (need I go on?). Fassbender, who will play the lead character, has been on career ascension like no other since appearing in Hunger in 2008 and then Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds a year later, both of which he received mass amounts of praise for his performances in. It does not get much bigger than Brad Pitt when it comes to names in the film industry (or any industry, for that matter), and Cameron Diaz and Penelope Cruz are two very accomplished actors (or actresses, whichever you prefer) who can more than hold their own in just about any film. Javier Bardem has just come off a BAFTA nominated performance for his portrayal of Bond villain Raoul Silva in Skyfall, and it is apparent that has been churning out excellent performance after excellent performance in recent years.

“Is this Transformers?”

The screenplay of The Counsellor has been written by none other than Cormac McCarthy, the author of novels such as the brooding No Country for Old Men and the heart-wrenching The Road (which have been adapted into Academy Award winning and critically successful films, respectively). Even though this will be McCarthy’s first feature-length screenplay, it is obvious that he has a knack for penning exceptionally good literature and it will be intriguing to see how his screenplay comes across directly on film.

The first trailer for The Counsellor has just been released and, although 44 seconds is a hardly a significant amount of time to be making too many judgements on, the film comes across as everything from gritty to slick to atmospheric to precise. It also sounds majestic. Of course, visually it appears a Ridley Scott film as the visuals are, for lack of a better description, ‘top notch’, and we get a brief glimpse of some of the characters involved — Bardem looks like he could be a show stealer in this department. As I just mentioned, this is only a short trailer and therefore it is likely that the full-length one will be made available in the coming months, by which time we will hopefully know a little more about Scott’s next cinematic outing. But for now, check out the short trailer below. And in answer to my somewhat rhetorical question at the beginning: No, not really — in fact, not at all.

Talk about star power.