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‘Fury’ Director David Ayer Recruits Brad Pitt to Kill More Nazis

'Fury' Director David Ayer Recruits Brad Pitt to Kill More Nazis

“I don’t know why I’m drawn to these intense stories and neither does my wife,” Ayer ponders. “The bigger the canvas I get as a director, the more I want. But I served in a submarine, so I’m very familiar with what it’s like to live inside of a weapon system and a steel world full of smelly men. So I was able to supply pressures and give the actors what they needed. Brad is the brains doing the thinking and the other guys are the arms and the legs.”

Read More: Anne Thompson’s take on “Fury”‘s Oscar chances. 

When Pitt improvised the line, “Ideals are peaceful, history is violent,” it took Ayer by surprise. But it crystallized what “Fury” is about. “World War II is this big contest between good and evil,” he says. “It really was black and white in that regard and that’s what draws people to it. Yet in the moral clarity of the fight, the soldier in the trench has seen a lot of bad stuff and doesn’t want to die and wants to go home. It’s that simple.”

Ayer did his research, reading memoirs and war reports, talking to vets and studying the genre. What struck him was not only the preponderance of battles and hardware inaccuracies but also the lack of character depth in many American movies. But he was inspired by the edginess of immediate post-war German movies such as “The Bridge.”

“It’s the end of the war, and Germany is losing and you’re fighting a toxic, destructive ideology. Logan is asked to shoot the dead Germans and I got that out of a kind of household hints for tank crews. Germans will play dead and then come up from behind and fire a rocket at you. This tank unit was a brotherhood. They love each other like brothers, but they’re asking them to risk their lives.

“For me, as a filmmaker, I’m double-tracking: I live in today and I still try and reconcile the past, especially since my family lived this war. They are mythologized as ‘The Greatest Generation,’ but they could be sons of bitches just like anyone else. There was a mental toughness to them and Brad represents that generational archetype of what a man’s supposed to be.”

Ayer was tough on his actors, too, creating a rough boot camp environment that had them growing closer yet fighting one another as well. “A character is an arrow that passes through the window,” according to the director.

After co-scripting the submarine thriller “U-571,” Ayer was ready to stage a movie inside a tank. The “rivet counters” will be pleased with the accuracy of the Sherman tank and the first time appearance of a Tiger 1. They built a tank set on gimbals. The cannon fired, the turret rotated. “But the actors had to learn to become a family that lives in this house,” he says.  “It’s their home. They had to learn to operate their stations and how to look comfortable doing it. How to move with muscle memory in this complex machine. That’s what sells it, that’s what makes it real.”

Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov (“End of Watch”) convinced Ayer to shoot on film after testing both film and digital and getting better results on film. “My big concern was it was such an ambitious schedule,” says Ayer. “It was shot in 69 days, which is really nothing for a film of this scale, and I was looking for any advantage as far as production. This is my third show and after doing two digital shows, you forget the discipline of filmmaking with film. It’s paradoxical because in slowing down and thinking about what you’re doing, you’re forced to be more methodical as a crew.

“In a strange way, you actually find the movie faster and the shots faster because you’re not just swinging around a digital camera without turning it off. Film has more latitude. But you really have to think about when you push that on and off button. I can’t go back to digital now but I may be forced to.”

The most complex and satisfying scene takes place in an apartment as two German girls are sucked into a crazy psychodrama. It’s a chance to wind down before moving on to capture the next town, but the dinner becomes a crucible for the tank crew. Pitt’s father figure takes the time to bring newbie Lerman into the fold; the others are jealous. They don’t think he’s worthy, but at the same time they are trying to break him in themselves.

“Who gets to anoint him?” asks Ayer. “It’s pretty complex…It’s a family that happens to live in a tank and kill people. Nobody is more vicious than family; nobody knows your weaknesses better than family. And when family turns on family, it’s psychologically brutal, and that’s what that scene is. It’s Thanksgiving theater. A tank crew is a very intimate unit. There are no secrets; there’s no safety.”

I can’t wait for Ayer to bring some of that complexity to “The Suicide Squad,” as DC does battle with Marvel for superhero supremacy.

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