A clear signpost for Brian De Palma’s transition away from the more experimental early half of his career and towards the more coherent latter half, The Fury still plays out a smorgasbord of ideas thrown against a wall and waiting to see what sticks. Pumped full of so many detours and tonal changes that it’ll spin you around just as violently as John Cassavetes during the final scene, The Fury is an entertaining mess. But it’s never less than a mess.
De Palma’s prior film, Carrie, has its own moments of kitsch and twisted comedy, but the brutality and homerun of its ending smooth over any inconsistencies there, and that trick is not repeated here. The Fury is ostensibly about a pair of teenage psychics being studied and trained for weaponized use by a secret government organization during the Cold War, but it takes its sweet time getting not only to that plot point but happily diverts with a plethora of car chases, violent shootouts, and other distracting episodes.
The main plot becomes something of an afterthought routinely, and such an afterthought that the third act becomes something of a rush job. The film has teased our two main characters eventually meeting up and unleashing havoc, but there’s no great or satisfying payoff to that tease. De Palma’s sexual hysterics here play out like a particularly horny and gore-obsessed teenage boy struggling to tell a story without getting too distracted by diversions playing into those twin interests.
We’re promised a thriller, and we get in spots, but we also get bloody gore, subpar espionage scenes, and misplaced comedic interludes that play in such discordant notes with the rest of the film that make your head tilt in confusion. We open with a psych-out of terrorists storming the beach to break-up a father/son pair, but they forgot to factor in that the father is played by Kirk Douglas. Spartacus won’t go down until the final frame, if he goes down at all. It’s all an elaborate copout, and one made to setup Cassavetes with a dead arm that’s a glaringly obvious symbol for a type of castration.
Look, no one would ever accuse De Palma of subtlety, and I won’t even try. Then the son, Andrew Stevens mostly asked to glare and flex, becomes a trained attack dog and bored demigod that is ripe for a rage against the machine, and so it goes on and on. Throw in Amy Irving as the distaff half of the teenage psionics, Charles Durning as a shady institute’s head, and Carrie Snodgress as a rebellious nurse, and you’ll begin to see why this thing is more entertaining than it is coherent.
Even worse is how little The Fury makes us care about any of its characters with Douglas’ being a particularly nasty bastard prone to using both Irving and Snodgress at their most emotionally vulnerable to achieve his goals. This is Douglas at his hammy worst, but at least he’s balanced out with a solid performance from Snodgress and an effectively oily one from Cassavetes. I’m just not sure what to make of Irving’s performance, at times she’s delicately vulnerable that she’s deeply engaging, but others she’s strangely flat or awkward.
I suppose that carries over into the entirety of The Fury. There’s some daring thematic material at play buried somewhere underneath De Palma’s histrionics. It’s no Carrie, and probably more than enough fuel for several chapters in Misogyny in the Movies: The De Palma Question, yet The Fury is entertaining enough during it. Just don’t think too hard about its abundance of disappearing characters, plots, and needless diversions.