Sunday, November 30, 2014


2014, David Ayer (Street Kings, End of Watch) -- cinema

I love this poster.  It is simple, pure and emotive. A weathered Brad Pitt, tank commander and leader of a crew that have been with him since Africa, carries the weight of what he has to do. A heavy burden. The sky is grey and war is grey, and both are heavy with impending doom. He leans on the barrel of the tank for support, that is painted with its pet name, the tool of the fury he has inside of him.  I saw much in that poster and hoped for much in the movie. While I got a movie I enjoyed I did not get the heaviness I hoped for.

Pitt is Don 'Wardaddy' Collier, and his crew are a bunch of gawdawful, nasty men. Shia LeBeouf is Bible, a little full of himself, constantly quoting scripture and seeking out dying men to "save". Jon Bernthal is Coon-Ass, a hillbilly who I doubt will ever be clean again, with probably engine grease blackened teeth and a foul sensibility. Michael Peña is Gordo, quietest of the bunch but just as home in the tank sharing whores with his buddies. And there is Norman (later Machine), come to replace their assistant driver and bow gunner. Their previous one is all over the inside of the tank and Norman's (who was a typist a few weeks ago) first job is to clean out the tank.

These are seasoned, hard, filthy men traumatized by the loss of one of them and resentful they are stuck with a green non-combatant. But Wardaddy feels he needs to protect them all and understands that doing so requires Norman to become one of them. Norman does not want to be here, here beyond the borders of Germany, as the Allies press deeper into enemy land. A land that is running out of proper soldiers and tossing everyone and anyone against the allies. They are pressing past front lines, through towns and villages and churning the countryside into mud with their tanks and boots and shells. Norman's tank crew doesn't want him either but nobody is arguing orders or with Wardaddy.

American tanks didn't stand a chance against Panzers. You know what they say about the life expectancy of a tank crew. That Wardaddy gets them this far is astounding, and they all know its the end of the war, but... will they survive? Based on how quickly each of the other 4 tanks are picked off, I doubt they have much confidence in it. These men are resolved to do what they have to do. Pitt never argues with commanders (Jason Isaacs as a tired Captain, wearing a battered winter jacket that looks like roadkill) who give him impossible missions, just does what he knows best. Best job they ever had, they all intone. They are probably right. None of the men strike me as the kind who ever did well, States-side. With Wardaddy leading, they have gone up against german tanks and lived.

There is a brief respite where we see a more relaxed Collier, kind to some German women who allow him to wash, shave and feed him. He is quiet, respectful (he speaks perfect German) and protective when the rest of his crew arrives, assuming they are getting ass, not fried eggs. Its a respite before the horror of war falls on their heads, again. Norman is left, no longer a typist,  a machine, cutting down German soldiers.

So, there was drama and horror and heroism and death. And there was Wardaddy escaping to parts of camp, unseen, to collapse under his burdens almost in tears and distraught to distraction. He hears a voice and straightens up again. This should have been heavier, it should have been heartwrenching. But it wasn't. The movie is not as much weighed down as the clouds are in the poster. Whether it is nuances that are lacking or just that Pitt cannot portray them, we only ever get hints of the fury that is in him. Not enough for me to say this was a great war movie, just an OK one.