The Script for ‘Fury’ Gave Norman Psychic Powers
The hit World War II movie was almost terrible
A screenplay that’s … well, less than great.
In the film industry, a lot can change between script and screen. Writing is a solitary act, the author bent over a keyboard for months and sometimes years. But filmmaking is collaborative. Dozens of people fiddle with a script once it enters production.
With so many people meddling in the story, how can a finished film ever be anything but junk? That’s a common critique of the movie business.
But it’s an unfair one. Often, revisions by producers, directors and studios executives improve a film. Such is the case with Fury.
Ayer burdened his original script with awful dialogue, pointless origin stories and poorly-explained superpowers. We read the thing so you don’t have to. Spoilers ahead.
The most jarring difference between Ayer’s script and the final product is Wardaddy.
Brad Pitt plays tank commander Sgt. Dan “Wardaddy” Collier with a quiet stoicism and reserve. He’s a man doing an unpleasant job while trying to keep his men alive.
The way the script reads, Wardaddy is like Captain America without the conscience. He loves killing Nazis. Loves it a little too much.
The script’s Collier is a bloodthirsty psychopath who keeps track of the Nazis he’s killed with notches in his knife. At one point he bemoans the war’s imminent conclusion. “I don’t want it to end,” Wardaddy says.
Early in the movie, Wardaddy and his men are disgusted at the sight of an S.S. prisoner marching through the American camp. Pitt’s Wardaddy yells at the soldiers escorting the prisoner. The escorts explain that the commander wants to question the S.S. man.
Pitt’s Wardaddy tells them not to take the guy through camp—the G.I.s will want to kill him. Sure, he roughs the German up a bit, but Wardaddy is really just looking out for his fellow soldiers.
In the script, Wardaddy unceremoniously stabs the S.S. prisoner in the heart. He moves the blade back and forth with glee. “Okay,” one of the escorts sighs. “That kind of thing’s gonna get you in a lot of trouble.”
The script’s version of Wardaddy isn’t just psychotic, he’s also got one of those cliche tortured pasts. He tells his young crewman Norman all about it.
Wardaddy says that his mother was born in a town “somewhere around here” in Germany. Now we know why he speaks German. He explains how he got those hideous scars on his back. See, before the war, Collier dated a girl named Rose. She was “pretty like one of those old paintings.”
But Wardaddy liked to drink. One night, he took Rose and his kid brother—who looked just like Norman—to a county dance. He then “drank two bottles of nickel whiskey and got in a punch-up at the dance with this big Indian.”
He knocked the big man out with an empty bottle and fled with his brother and Rose. At this point, Norman interrupts him.
“I’m not your bartender,” Norman says. “And I’m not you pastor. You don’t need to tell me this.” But Wardaddy can’t help but confess.
Wardaddy was drunk. He flipped the truck. It caught fire, scorching his back. His little brother and Rose died. The judge told him to join the Army and die for his country.
“Best advice I ever got,” Wardaddy says.
Worse is Wardaddy’s assertion that Norman looks like his little brother. Oh, and his brother’s name was Norman, too.
Set aside this ridiculous, unbelievable coincidence and concentrate on the mess that is Collier’s origin story. Pitt’s Wardaddy is mythic and mysterious. The script’s version is just a sad ex-drunk. Reveal the mystery and the character crumbles.
Now things get weird. You see, Norman has psychic powers. That’s right. The young, frightened assistant driver is some kind of mutant.
After Wardaddy’s confession, Norman explains that he was born with a caul—a kind of thin sheet of flesh which sometimes covers a newborn’s face.
Old fables claim that a baby born with a caul will be in touch with the supernatural. It’s not a common trope in fiction anymore, but fans of Hemlock Grove might recognize the conceit.
“Sometimes I know things are going to happen,” Norman explains. “And people tell me things. Since I was little. Bad things. Confessions.”
Norman has had a vision about Wardaddy. He’s already dead, a walking corpse.
The tank commander will soon get his wish and die in battle. It’s a message from beyond—and Wardaddy takes comfort in it. But for the audience, believing the foreshadowing would also mean believing Norman is psychic, which would makes the film’s otherwise most sympathetic character totally unconvincing.
Much of the screenplay’s dialogue is terrible. Many of the film’s best lines are missing on the page. Bible—Shia LaBeouf’s creepy preacher’s son—pretty much disappears in the script.
The scene in the German village where the tank crew dines with two German women in their apartment is much different on the page. The older woman is sad that Wardaddy won’t sleep with her. Emma—the young woman who is around Norman’s age—initiates the sexual encounter between them.
While Norman is doing his lame palm-reading trick, she takes off her top and reaches for his pants. She assures him she won’t hurt him. Norman is painfully shy.
In the movie, this scene is fragile, tense and dangerous. And yes, a little bit rapey—which is entirely consistent with the film’s themes and tone. The script’s version of the apartment scene actually undermines the rest of the story.
The script also contains an extra tank battle. About halfway through the film, a German Tiger tank destroys the three other Sherman tanks in Wardaddy’s platoon. Wardaddy and crew barely manage to defeat the German machine.
In the script, one of Fury’s companion tanks survives. The Americans feel relieved as they begin to search the area. One of them opens the doors of a nearby barn to reveal—in the words of the script—“ANOTHER FUCKING TANK!”
It’s a cheap trick—the equivalent of Jason Voerhees or Freddy Krueger springing back to life in the last frame of a horror flick.
Ayer’s Fury script is a cautionary tale. A writer or director can get too close to his story and lose sight of what works and what doesn’t. Fury is killing at the box office because Ayer had fantastic editors.