I’ll give the Nazis one thing–they established themselves as the villain forever and ever in Hollywood movies. No one cries foul when Nazis are slaughtered like sheep in films, and that includes Fury, which proves that even after 70 years, World War II is still fodder for good movies.
Fury, written and directed by David Ayer, has both new and old elements. It’s new in that, like Saving Private Ryan, to which it owes a great deal, it tells an unfiltered story of war. No more do soldiers just clutch their chest and fall over; these men are decapitated and eviscerated. It’s old in that it tells a basic “war is hell” story that we’ve heard many times over, and in the classic “platoon” structure–this time five men, from various parts of the country, forced to share the cramped space of a Sherman tank.
The film opens with one particular tank, dubbed “Fury” (I spent much of the film wondering what I would have named my tank) returning from an engagement. One man is dead, part of his face left inside the tank, The tank is commanded by Sgt. Collier (Brad Pitt), a fierce leader, and his men are Gordo (Michael Pena), a Mexican-American driver (the troops weren’t integrated yet, so this is as close as we get to diversity); Boyd, dubbed Bible, a very religious gunner (Shia LaBeouf); Coon-Ass, a hillbilly who loads the shells (John Bernthal), and the new recruit, a typist who somehow got assigned to a tank (Logan Lerman).
In another echo of Saving Private Ryan, Lerman is wet behind the ears, and is reluctant to engage in warfare (this is very similar to the character played by Jeremy Davies). He fails to shoot some soldiers because they are children (it is near the end of the war, and Hitler has employed every able person to fight) and causes a man’s death. Later, Pitt will make Lerman shoot a prisoner.
By the end of the film, the notion of having a conscience is pretty much gone, as Lerman is shooting pell mell and shouting, “Fuck you, Nazis!” But before that, we get some very intense battle scenes. I don’t recall any film I’ve seen that has put the viewer in the firefight like this one does. We get the claustrophobia of being inside a tank, plus the nerve-rattling circumstance that you could get your head blown off at any second. In one scene, a German Tiger tank (they were superior to Shermans) engages with five Shermans. Pitt’s remains the only tank left, and the two tanks play a kind of chess game trying to get a good position on one another.
As good as the battle scenes are, the film has an enormous crater in its second act. The army takes over a German town and has a little R&R. Pitt spies a woman looking through a window so he marches into her apartment and finds another woman, a girl, hiding under the bed. He and Lerman makes themselves at home and later Pitt will push Lerman into the bedroom with the young girl. “If you don’t take her into the bedroom, I will,” Pitt says. After the two consummate their relationship, the remainder of the tank crew barge in, acting like baboons. I’m not sure why this scene was added. It shows off Americans as both crude and, in Pitt and Lerman’s case, occasionally kind, but the whole thing is oddly paced, written, and acted. You just want to get back to the shooting.
The climax of the film is when our five, the tread of the tank broken because of a landmine, decide to try to hold a crossroads against an SS battalion of about 300. It answers the question of how many Germans one tank can kill before they run out of ammo. There’s great courage involved, but one has to wonder at their reasoning for staying. Pitt says, “This is my home,” referring to the tank, and we have to speculate on what he has left behind in America, because there is no reference to a home back in the States, a flaw in the script.
The other actors are fine, with LaBeouf, for once, actually disappearing into a character (I read that he refused to shower to stay in character, which annoyed his fellow actors). Pena is one of those reliable actors who is good in everything, while Bernthal plays a character that is pretty vile, except he is given one scene of redemption.
The real stars of the film, though, are behind the scenes. Major props to cinematographer Roman Vasynanov, who casts the film in a perpetual gloom; music by Steven Price, and sound design by Paul N.J. Ottosson. Those bullets and bombs sound very real, and at times I felt the need to duck.
My grade for Fury: B.