David Ayer’s (End of Watch) WWII-set tank epic is a hulking, mechanical beast of masculine adrenaline that rumbles along to Steven Price’s (Gravity) incredible operatic score. It does a lot of the heavy lifting in this rousing drama, that in bursts thematically resembles great war films like Platoon or Saving Private Ryan, only to fail on a few fronts – with its stock characters, romanticised machismo and somewhat extreme depictions. Still, the tanks have heft and character and Fury is an intense, grueling, visceral and claustrophobic representation of the sheer horrors of war – the incineration of life, the loss of innocence, the transformation of an ordinary human being into a monster– and the authentic mud-drenched combat sequences are very well done indeed.
Brad Pitt stars as battle-hardened sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier who commands a Sherman tank (Fury) and its five-man crew, including Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal). When their other regular member is killed, Collier is assigned a fresh rookie in Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). Under the orders of Captain Waggoner (Jason Isaacs), Collier leads his men on a series of deadly missions behind German lines. He tries his best to get Norman combat-ready, but their consistent contact with the enemy fast tracks his lessons. The unit camaraderie becomes strained when they find themselves outgunned and facing overwhelming odds. Forced to reconcile, they must call upon every reserve of heroism and courage in order to survive.
Immense work has gone into recreating this nightmarish experience, ensuring the terrific tank battles have an unnerving authenticity. The film’s pure-action finale, in particular, is spectacular. Pitt jumps on the main machine gun like the William Holden in The Wild Bunch, while Norman – who has completed his orientation into a hardened solider – becomes a key cog in their formation.
Ayer reminds us consistently of what the war experience is like, and places us right in the centre of it. We are frequently offered the POV of these guys, as they peer out of their windows in the tank or are setting the crosshairs on a target. When they emerge from their shell, they are photographed alone and vulnerable.
As the unit moves from town to town, they are assigned new missions. There is game-level feel to all of this, but it is plausible. Despite their new blood, Collier is highly respected and his unit shares a rare camaraderie, and is more than equipped to deal with the horrors likely to confront them.
There are some terrific sequences and some really bold decisions. The surprisingly quieting and sensitive middle sequence, which is set entirely in an apartment and without a single fired gun – is as much about unraveling these characters than anything else. It is also one of the film’s most unpredictable. It does have a disappointing resolution, as his men find brief comfort a means to be exploited, and not appreciated.
Brad Pitt is one of the most effortlessly charismatic actors in the business. He doesn’t have to do very much to command attention. Collier is the unequivocal ruler of Fury and has an unspoken authority while it runs. He takes Norman under his wing, understanding better than anyone that if he isn’t contact-ready he places his whole unit at risk. He is tough, has become merciless and has programmed himself to hate his enemy and revel in their obliteration. He must teach that to Norman. But, there are more than a few occasions when we see the toll that this persona has on him – and how relieved he is to be able to spend some time alone in the company of the non-judgmental Norman.
But it was Lerman (whose turns in this and The Perks of Being A Wallflower should have him on the verge of super-stardom) who was the best in show. He is the heart and soul of this story, demonstrative of how a soldier learns their top priority – survival. He is in the shadow of Pitt’s screen presence, but his evolution resembles Charlie Sheen’s Taylor in Oliver Stone’s masterpiece Platoon. His mentor shares both Barnes and Elias qualities, though.
I grew very tired of Bernthal, whose macho-antics mixed with simpleton intelligence felt overplayed. He’s a pretty despicable human being and he is given a token scene of redemption that felt very forced. Pena has also been far better before. A teary-eyed, bible-quoting LaBeouf does the best with a sidelined role. These guys felt like caricatures, a blend of personalities that just didn’t gel as organically as was needed.
Fury is a film with lofty ambitions that doesn’t quite get it all right, but with Price’s score rattling around in my head it is hard to shake some of these scenes. For a war film, that is a compliment. Like the shot of a tank burying a dead soldier further into the mud Fury is a pummeling experience for the audience. If you’re game, it is well worth the time.
By Andrew Buckle
Director: David Ayer
Writer(s): David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña
Runtime: 134 minutes
Release date(s): Australia & New Zealand: October 23 2014; USA: October 17 2014