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Posts Tagged ‘Brad Pitt’


Fury, the newest war movie to hit the theaters, is an excellent film in many ways reminiscent of Spielberg’s classic Saving Private Ryan. There are many points of contact between the movie, and some major points of departure as well.

The time frame for Fury is a few months before VE Day. The U.S. forces have pushed into Germany and Germany has resorted to extreme methods like drafting women and children into the battle. This affects the plot, but does not drive the plot like D-Day does SPR. The plot of SPR has to do with saving the last remaining son of a widow in the aftermath of D-Day. Here we see a few instances of the cruelty and desperation of the SS, and the response of the main characters to the SS. In one scene, an SS officer is not allowed to surrender with the rest of the German “troops” (including teenaged girls).

Points of Contact:

Both movies focus on one unit. In SPR is is a Ranger unit sent to find Private Ryan. Here it is a tank crew. They don’t receive their mission until at least the mid-point of the movie.

Both units have a highly competent yet mysterious leader: Capt. Miller and Sgt. “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt in his best movie in years). Yes, every crew member has a nickname. In SPR they keep guessing what his vocation in pre-war life was. Here there is no such game but they all wonder why he knows German. Late in the movie the mystery deepens when they discover his familiarity with Scripture.

While both leaders are highly effective, they are also secretly damaged. Miller’s hand would increasingly shake during downtime. In a rare moment of self-disclosure he admits “every time I kill someone I feel farther from home.” In the opening sequence, Fury is the only tank to have survived a battle in which they lost the assistant driver. Back in the camp, Collier finds an isolated spot for a “moment”. He hates the war and what it does to him but there is no escape.

Enter the newbie. In both cases it is a man who was not prepared for combat. In SPR he is Corporal Upham, a translator since they will be going behind the current lines to retrieve Ryan who was a paratrooper. Here it is a typist named Norman. He is not prepared for life in a tank or for combat. Much of the movie is about his struggle with the realities of war with which the other crew members are all too familiar. In his first two encounters there is failure that costs the lives of others. His sense of right and wrong have him ill-equipped for combat. But, as “Bible” Swan guesses, Norman is a “Mainliner” or liberal, nominal Christian.

In both movies the action scenes strive for authenticity. This means they are intense and graphic. They accurately convey the horror of war, and deepen your appreciation for the men who endured these circumstances.

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I watched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Bob Ford yesterday.  It is based on a novel, so I have no clue how much truth might be mixed in with the fiction.  So, I’ll treat it all as fiction.

This movie is about the relationship between Jesse James and a younger man who idealized and idolized him, Bob Ford.  Bob’s brother Charlie is in the James Gang.  Bob has built a library and museum to Jesse, tucked under his bunk.  Looking like a rag-tag waif in a ridiculous top hat, he seeks to meet the brothers James on a job and become something of a sidekick.  He gives Frank James the creeps.  And he seems creepy (played well by Casey Affleck who is finally making a name for himself, emerging from his brother’s shadow).  Jesse, being the more impetuous brother takes advantage of the young man’s interest after what turns out to be the James’ Gang’s final job.  Frank heads east leaving Jesse to make sure none of their associates betrays them.

The portrait that emerges is one of James (a fine performance by Brad Pitt) as both charismatic and crazy.  He is a paranoid psychopath who begins to kill members of the gang he suspects are going to turn him in.  Rejection begins to turn Bob’s heart and a series of incidents continue the turning.  After he has killed Jesse’s cousin, he knows that eventually Jesse will come for him.  But during this time Bob has grown more confident, self-assured.  He has also turned state’s evidence in an attempt to hedge his bets.  The Governor is played by James Carvel (yes, the Democrat attack dog- both sides have them) and Ted Levine (Monk, Silence of the Lambs) has a role as the Marshall.  The movie runs along these 2 lines, Jesse and Bob Ford.

The day comes when Jesse discovers Dick Liddle has turned state’s evidence, 3 weeks previously (after Bob arranged his capture).  Bob knows that soon he will be discovered.  The movie is a bit ambiguous- did Jesse want Bob to kill him?

You do see something of James, the family man.  But what struck me was the incredible price his family played for his unlawful choices.  The children do not know their real last name.  They don’t know what their father does.  They move often, usually in the middle of the night.  Their father is missing for long stretches of time, leaving his wife to hold down the fort.

The last 20 minutes of the movie focus on Bob Ford’s life after the killing.  He became a villain for killing an American folkhero the same way that folkhero killed so many others.  James was a hero, he was a coward.  In a rare vulnerable moment he tells a woman “I thought they would applaud.”  He set everyone free from terror at the hand of James, and he was the bad guy.  He is the one person who stood up to him, and he was the coward.  The cruel ironies of life.

The oddities of popular culture, to idolize evil men and despise those who try to do what is right (Ford clearly had mixed motives here, so he’s no hero).  We have an undiscerning tendency to admire those who “stick it to the man”, overlooking their own greed, vainglory, hubris and selfish motives.  This movie says alot about us, implicitly, by who we think is the hero and the villain.

The movie is an interesting one, but a very long one (2:40) and slow of pace.  The soundtrack builds a very sad and desperate mood.  Though this is a good movie with some very good performances, it is not a movie for everyone.  There is, obviously, some bloodshed, and some sexual banter between the thieves.  So, this movie is not appropriate for everyone.  But you receive a more realistic glimpse into the lives of western outlaws- the loneliness, fear and disconnection.

Sidenote:  One scene makes extensive use of the word “misremembered”.  Makes you wonder if Clemens watched this just prior to the Congressional hearings.

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