[I have a few more historic busts waiting to be posted, but here is a bust of a much more recent movie that may very well clean up, come award season.]
Fury (2014) is an American World War II film, written and directed by David Ayer, starring Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman.
In the end, having fought together from North Africa all the way into the heart of Germany, with barely weeks of the war in Europe remaining, a tank commander, Brad Pitt, and his tight-knit crew are wiped out, when their immobilised tank is overrun by an SS counter-attack, the only survivor of which is their inexperienced and ill-prepared recent replacement machine-gunner, Logan Lerman.
With Allied tank numbers dwindling from the hammering they are taking from technically superior German counterparts, Pitt and his tank, sole survivor of a recent engagement that cost the life of one of his crew, is ordered to join up with another group, tasked with the relief of a contingent who ran into fierce resistance, en route to capturing a nearby town.
Dismayed by being assigned a recently enlisted private, trained in typing, Pitt is furious with his new machine-gunner, Lerman, for hesitating during an ambush, when confronted by a German child soldier, that results in the loss of the column's lead tank and the unit's only officer.
Lerman's refusal to pull the trigger, even in the heat of battle, is further confirmed when Pitt, having assumed command, fails to bully him into shooting a German captured wearing an American soldier's overcoat during the fight to relieve the pinned down troops.
In fact, the only time Lerman seems willing to fire on the enemy, is to dispatch a group of them suffering terrible phosphorus burns from an incendiary shell fired during the assault on the forces defending the nearby town. Seeing this as, at least, a start, Pitt tries to further impress upon Lerman the desperate nature of the enemy they face by showing him a room full of Nazi suicide victims, discovered in the town they have taken.
Pitt then confounds the brutal impression he has made on Lerman as a rabid German hater, when, instead of assaulting a pair of frightened women they find hiding in an apartment, he offers them food and persuades them to cook a meal for them, even defending the women against the drunken advances of the other members of his crew, who show up uninvited.
Tragically, just as the tank crews are being called away to secure a vital crossroad under threat, enemy shelling demolishes the apartment, killing the women, plunging Lerman into despair.
Racing to their objective, Pitt and his crew are lucky to survive a deadly encounter with a much more powerful German tank, that lays waste to all three of the others in their company, before they finally manage to destroy it.
Disastrously blowing off one of their tank's tracks on a mine, at the deserted crossroad, Pitt sends Lerman ahead to spot for enemy, only for him to return, before the crew are able to effect a repair, with a panicked report of a large company of well armed and motivated SS troops, bearing down on their position.
Unable to radio for support, and knowing that their stricken vehicle is all that lies between the enemy and essential Allied supply lines, Pitt and his crew reluctantly elect to remain with it and hold off the Germans for as long as they are able, even though they cannot possibly survive.
Doing their best to disguise the tank as an abandoned wreck, the crew nervously hunker down and prepare themselves for the coming storm.
Waiting until the very last moment before opening fire, the tank's gunner manages to take out the enemy's armoured supply vehicles, while the whole crew set about mowing down as many of the troops swarming round them, as possible.
Eventually running low on ammunition, the crew is forced out of the relative safety of the tank's interior to search for weapons with which to continue the fight, including Lerman, who has at last found his fighting legs. But inevitably the enemy's overwhelming numbers begin to take their toll.
First the tank's loader is caught by a bullet, as he scrambles for cover through a turret hatch. Then the driver is forced to throw himself on a live grenade he drops after being hit.
Finally the gunner is killed, when he unexpectedly lunges out of his hatch, by a sniper's bullet meant for Pitt, who has been operating the turret mounted machine-gun, but who is forced back inside the tank after taking several hits.
Now completely out of bullets, the terrified Lerman confesses to Pitt that he is scared and contemplating surrender, something Pitt advises him would be a very bad idea. Rather Lerman should use the tank's escape hatch, when they are finally overrun, which Lerman duly does, narrowly avoiding the blast from German stick grenades that kill Pitt.
Cowering in the mud, Lerman is only saved when a very young SS soldier, searching beneath the tank with a flash-light, decides not to give him away.
The next morning, Lerman is declared a hero, by the American troops who discover him to be the tank crew's sole survivor, amongst a wasteland of dead German soldiers.
Too often in war movies, the enemy are presented as faceless devils, who are only getting what is coming to them. Certainly writer/director, David Ayer takes every opportunity to paint the eventual recipients of his heroes' fury blacker than black, at pains to distinguish them from the regular German army, and the women and children forcibly co-opted into taking up arms. So that by the time Pitt and his crew, who are, after all, by then only fighting to save the lives of others, start cutting the enemy down, like so much wheat, the audience never gives the massacre they are committing a second thought.
In truth though, there is never any doubt that war has turned Pitt and his men into repellent blood-thirsty killers, perhaps at last only getting what they themselves deserve. Even the initially reluctant Lerman eventually agrees with them than killing Germans is the best job in the world. Then again, the mercy he is shown does remind us that not everyone who wore the SS uniform was necessarily blacker than black.
And when all is said and done, no doubt, with his portrayal of Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009), Jewish revenge fantasy's swastika carving, comic-book Nazi hunter, to mind, Pitt does deliver a compellingly realistic power performance, as a brutally conflicted, murderous warrior, desperately anticipating the end of hostilities, which is sure to receive award recognition. Indeed, any of his co-stars could find themselves similarly honoured, as should Ayer. For not since Wolfgang Petersen's Das Boot (1981) has the incomprehensible savagery, claustrophobic fear and random tragedy of warfare been so unflinchingly rendered.