Film reviews: Fury | Jimi: All Is By My Side

A BULLISH historian once told me that any war movie that comes with a PG-13 rating is lying to its audience.

Fury. Picture: Contributed
Fury. Picture: Contributed

Fury (15)

Director: David Ayer

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Running time: 134 minutes

Star rating: * * *

On that basis, maybe he would approve of David Ayer’s Fury, a Second World War drama which challenges its 15 certificate from the start, with a scene in which a Nazi is stabbed in the face.

“Ideals are peaceful, history is violent,” agrees Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt). Fury is Pitt’s first blockbuster since World War Z, and although it is an ensemble drama, the camera constantly turns to him for reassurance. When he was younger, Pitt was frequently compared to Robert Redford, but now he favours less gilded characters. It is a more graceful career choice than his Ocean’s Eleven colleague George Clooney, who seems helplessly thirled to a model of smug gayness. As Wardaddy, Pitt is a kind of father figure. The leader of a five-man crew in a battered tank in the final days of the war, he steers missions that include rescuing soldiers, trundling through battle-damaged towns, and occasionally facing down German Tiger tanks that have better armour and arms than the American versions.

Don is a bit of an M4 Sherman himself: an assault machine who takes no prisoners. But he is devoted to his men and irritated to discover that his new replacement assistant driver has not graduated from tank school. Instead, Ellison (Logan Lehrman) has been hoiked out of the secretarial pool, where his skills included typing up to 60 words per minute, and shoved into a profane environment where his first job is clearing the remains of the unit’s last driver out of the tank. His companions are archetypal warriors: pious “Bible” (Shia LaBeouf) is the main gunner; “Coon-Ass” (Jon Bernthal) is the tank’s belligerent redneck loader, while “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña) is the underwritten Hispanic driver – anyone who can recall a single detail about Gordo other than his response to the unit’s casual racism deserves an award.

Will the old hands grudgingly accept the rookie and show him the ropes? Disappointingly, that is a given. There’s a lot here that is familiar, and not just to those who have spent a few Saturday afternoons watching Sam Peckinpah war pictures. Ayer’s dramas Training Day and End Of Watch were fascinated by cop ecosystems, with their inside jokes, blunt language and baptismal rituals, and Fury sometimes feels like one of his earlier films with a bigger arms budget.

Certainly the team dynamics of Fury echo Ayer’s last film, Sabotage, a viciously incoherent mess starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a hard tack special operative leading a gonzo gang of buff soldiers armed with big guns and hyper-macho nicknames, while Pitt’s attempts to toughen up Logan by forcing him to participate in ruthlessly amoral acts are reminiscent of Denzel Washington tutoring Ethan Hawke in survival in Training Day.

These are colourful comic book tropes, which rather diminish the film when it strains towards authentically brutal shocks, or poignancy, as in an interlude where Pitt and Lehrman’s characters encounter a German mother and daughter and spend an afternoon together which plays out a surprising range of emotions.

Twitter @SiobhanSynnot

Jimi: All Is By My Side (15)

Star rating: * * *

THERE’S plenty to admire in John Ridley’s noodling, impressionistic and unauthorised portrait of Jimi Hendrix – not least his decision to cast Outkast frontman André Benjamin as the iconic guitarist, but also the way the film turns the refusal by Hendrix’s estate to allow use of his music into a virtue.

Novelist and screenwriter Ridley, who recently collected an Oscar for writing 12 Years A Slave, sidesteps a need for Hey Joe, Foxy Lady or The Wind Cries Mary by focusing on 1966/67 – a time when Hendrix was still an unknown musician in New York, wrangling a style for his left-handed guitar playing.

Jimi: All Is By My Side filters its story through two British women instrumental in shaping Hendrix. He’s discovered playing backup in an almost empty club by Linda Keith (Imogen Poots), a top model and Keith Richards’ girlfriend, who pushes him to reshape his look and try his luck in London. There, he meets Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), a hairdresser who becomes his girlfriend. A scene where Hendrix takes his anger out on Etchingham has sparked controversy – the real Kathy says it never happened – but Ridley is tracking not just two women but Hendrix’s flirtations with identity, and imminent fame.

It can be a frustrating film if you are seeking fresh insights into Hendrix but occasionally it ignites, especially with a recreation of Hendrix’s legendary performance at the Saville Theatre, where he confronts two Beatles with his version of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Edinburgh Cameo from 24 October

Björk: Biophilia Live (U)

Star rating: * * *

The Icelandic pop pixie showcases the concert tour version of her eighth album, a series of spacey meditations on natural phenomena performed by Björk in a gigantic Afro wig and a dress that appears to have been fashioned from a tumour. The faithful may be enchanted, but others may feel ground down by repetitive, atonal Stockhausen melodies played on Fisher Price toys. The planetarium spectacle includes subdividing cells and blooming storm clouds: fun for a while, but Björk is not a compelling screen presence.

Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday until Sunday; Edinburgh Filmhouse, 11 November

The Babadook (15)

Star rating: * * *

Still grieving for her dead husband, a sleep-deprived single mother (Essie Davis) struggles to raise a dysfunctional child. His fear of monsters in the wardrobe takes a menacing turn when they find an alarming children’s book. An atmospheric psychological thriller which unfolds like a postnatally depressed Repulsion.

General release

The Book Of Life (3D) (U)

Star rating; * *

Guillermo del Toro produces this gorgeously animated but narratively lifeless children’s story. Features the voices of Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana and Channing Tatum.

General release

This Is Where I Leave You (15)

Star rating: * *

Jane Fonda gathers up her four grown-up offspring (Tina Fey, Jason Bateman, House Of Cards’ Corey Stoll and Inside Llewyn Davis’s Adam Driver) and insists they spend a week together mourning her husband in the shiva tradition – even though she isn’t Jewish. Night At The Museum’s Shawn Levy steers an overextended TV sitcom with a funereal sense of fun.

General release

Night Train To Lisbon (12A)

Star rating: * *

Jeremy Irons saves a young woman (Mélanie Laurent) from suicide and becomes intrigued by a book she leaves behind. Like a night train, Bille August’s film finally gets there, but is almost unendurably slow.

General release