Thanks to Ben Frahm for this furious breakdown.
Written and directed by: David Ayer
Genre: Golden Fleece: Road, Team, Prize
Sub-Genre: Epic Fleece
Opening Image: A Nazi soldier rides a white horse through the devastation of a battle scene. Abandoned army tanks surround… when, suddenly, an American sergeant, Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), jumps from one of the tanks and stabs and kills the Nazi soldier… and sets his white horse free.
Set-Up: It’s April 1945, WWII. Wardaddy operates a Sherman Army tank and is responsible for five other American soldiers. Their goal in the War thus far has been to travel the German countryside and rescue American soldiers in provincial towns, all the while, fighting and weakening the German SS. Wardaddy is a hardened man. He has seen incredible devastation. And this impacts him as a man, a friend, and undoubtedly as a soldier. But Wardaddy has no ideas of stopping. In fact, he’s ready for his biggest mission yet: to travel into the “heart of Nazi Germany,” behind enemy lines, in hopes of helping allied forces win the war.
Theme Stated: Two soldiers talk about religion and how their opinions have changed after seeing the devastation of war: “Wait until you see what a man can do to another man…”
Catalyst: A rookie soldier, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), is introduced to Wardaddy. He’s going to be the new assistant driver. Norman is a soft-spoken, shy, nervous, and seemingly docile young man, who has previously spent his career in the Army working as a clerk typist. Wardaddy immediately shows concern.
Debate: Will Wardaddy let Norman in his troop? Is Norman fit for this new, incredibly dangerous mission to help win the war? Will Norman and his seemingly innocent, religious ways survive the test of extreme war, guided by a group of intensely jaded and war-hardened soldiers? Will the other soldiers embrace Norman or will they bully him? What will happen to Wardaddy and his fellow soldiers on this new mission?
Break into Two: Wardaddy agrees to allow Norman into his tank troop. Their mission begins.
Fun and Games: The A Story follows the naïve Norman as he’s thrust into a world of violence and chaos. Each new stop teaches this young man something new about violence, war, and life. The B Story is the commentary of the other crewmembers. What they have to teach Norman. What they believe is necessary in war. And the interactions they have with each other.
Wardaddy leads his troop deep into the German countryside. Norman continues to be trained by fellow troop members. In addition to assisting in driving duties, Norman must also keep a lookout for potentially harmful SS threats. Norman sees an SS soldier. He looks closer and sees that the soldier is a young man. Norman is afraid to sound an alarm. He hesitates and this almost gets his crew killed.
Wardaddy learns of this mistake and must teach Norman a lesson. So Wardaddy hands Norman a gun and demands that he kill the SS soldier. Norman refuses at first, but ultimately, is forced by Wardaddy. The two have words. Wardaddy tells Norman that if he wants to survive in such a war-torn, chaotic environment like this, he must learn to fight. He must never stop fighting. Norman is also taught to kill the “perceived dead soldiers” who lie on the ground. The other crewmembers show Norman that they might be faking it and must be killed to reassure total safety.
Wardaddy and his crewmembers continue on their journey. They discover an abandoned village and agree to stay the night. Wardaddy and Norman seek shelter in an abandoned apartment building. There, Norman meets a woman. So does Wardaddy. While the other crewmembers are keen on carousing and causing trouble with local townspeople, Norman and Wardaddy simply want quiet and food.
Midpoint: Norman and Wardaddy eat dinner with two German women. Norman takes a liking to one of the women and they end up consummating. This seemingly loving and peaceful moment (a true False Victory) is quickly ruined, when…
Bad Guys Close In: …fellow crewmembers, drunk, barge in. They start being inappropriate with the German women, and Wardaddy must reprimand them. Upon leaving the abandoned apartment, they receive word that SS soldiers are approaching. The US soldiers are attacked suddenly and village buildings are destroyed, among them, the abandoned apartment that belongs to Norman’s love interest. Norman goes running to find his love interest dead in the rubble of the building.
Are the warning of Wardaddy and the necessities of violence in order to survive true? We can see that the devastation and killing is having its effect on Norman.
The Sherman tank continues on its journey. The next stop is a barn in the countryside. It appears German soldiers knew they were coming and committed suicide before their arrival. However, upon pulling up to the barn, there’s an explosion as the tank hits a land mine. The tracks on the tank become unhinged, leaving it immobile. Wardaddy and his soldiers are stuck. The crewmembers take their posts. And Norman is assigned to guard the countryside. While looking, he notices 300 SS soldiers. Norman retreats to tell his fellow soldiers. They know they’re outnumbered. They know they might not have a chance. And they know that this might be the end of them all. However, under the leadership of Wardaddy, they refuse to flee. They will stay and fight.
All Is Lost: Wardaddy and his soldiers fight off SS attackers. Despite their greatest efforts, they are consumed. Everyone in the tank is dead or dying, except for Norman.
Dark Night of the Soul: Looking around, there is total devastation. Fires. Dead bodies. The SS soldiers have won. Wardaddy dies and his final words to Norman are to “never stop fighting.”
Break into Three: In order to survive, Norman slips down into a trap door under the Sherman tank. Upon being noticed by a young SS soldier, Norman is convinced that he will be shot under the tank. However, this time, Norman doesn’t act out of violence–even though he’s been trained otherwise; instead, Norman uses non-violence: with tears in his eyes, he throws up his hands in peace.
Finale: The German soldier doesn’t kill Norman under the tank. Instead, he pretends that he doesn’t see him. Because of his non-violent ways, Norman is spared. And before falling asleep from pure exhaustion, he notices the white legs of an SS horse. Similar to the opening image, this horse passes quickly… and with the light of a new day… we see…
Final Image: …American soldiers coming to the rescue. Pulling back, there’s devastation everywhere. Yet Norman will live and as reassured by a fellow soldier, the war will be over soon.