Writer: David Ayer
Cast: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, John Bernthal, Michael Pena
Running time: 135mins
The lowdown: War may be Hell, but once more makes for blistering cinema. Brad Pitt gives arguably his best performance to date as Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier, leading a seasoned Sherman tank crew deep into Nazi Germany during the last gasps of WW2. But, the arrival of Logan Lerman’s callow Norman forces the men to see how three years of conflict has brutalised them as moral quandaries pile as high as the bodies. Riveting and shocking, with the horror of war painted in bold red strokes. Make tracks to see it.
The full verdict: To ensure we don’t miss the central War is Hell message, Fury opens with a German officer riding a white horse through a battlefield of human and vehicular wreckage. Director David Ayer then surprises us and this Book of Revelations imagery with a moment of gallows-humour and brutal violence that sets the mood for the next 135 minutes.
We’ve had only a handful of memorable tank movies. Humphrey Bogart’s Sahara. The nerve-wracking Lebanon. The allegorical White Tiger. The ferocious Beast of War. Bits of Kelly’s Heroes.
Fury may emerge as the best tank war movie since Sahara if only because David Ayer has the tools to depict the ferocity of tank warfare in all its deafening, claustrophobic, fiery intensity.
This may also be the first time big budget Hollywood has delivered a World War 2 movie with a lead character so hardened by war his moral compass has been seriously battle-damaged. “Ideals are peaceful, history is violent” Collier informs new guy Norman (Lerman, so-called presumably because it resembles “normal”, something the tank crew most definitely aren’t).
In this respect Fury adopts the Saving Private Ryan template – Norman is that film’s Upham, a clerical soldier thrown in to fight with seasoned veterans. Pitt’s crew resemble Tom Hank’s weary band of brothers, right down to Shia LaBeouf’s Boyd echoing Barry Pepper’s God-bothering sniper.
Only John Bernthal’s Grady is too threatening to recall that film, instead coming across as a slightly less terrifying riff on Terry Savalas’ psycho from The Dirty Dozen.
And while a long way from Inglourious Basterd’s Aldo Raine, Pitt is essentially Hank’s Capt. Miller, with sixteen years of damaged leading men on the big and small screen allowing for darker moral shading. Collier still wants to keep his men safe and stop the Nazi threat, and the story again boils down to a life or death decision to fight or flee.
But, Fury is no empty retread. The battle-damaged tank and crew our tour guides, the movie takes the audience through the smoke-blackened, blood-slathered cauldron of Germany in the final weeks of the combat; men, women and children all mobilised when Hitler declared total war. And anyone who refused was executed as an example to others.
A firefight in a town square and a subsequent party encapsulates the mad surrealism of life seconds away from death. And the film’s stand-out non-combat scene, a cooked breakfast with local women that is too much normalcy for the traumatised soldiers is perfectly directed and played.
But, what will leave viewers gasping and shell-shocked are the three scenes of conflict that Ayer depicts with unflinching realism and viscera. The first two are almost skirmishes with pockets of resistance, still demonstrating the terror of battle, particularly when Collier’s crew roll into the path of a terrifying Tiger tank.
As usual only American forces seem to have won World War 2 (but isn’t as egregious here as in the Ayer’s scripted U-571 that suggested Yanks cracked the Enigma code), but Fury is taut, suspenseful and if it paves the way for a tank movie sub-genre, could we suggest the Battle of Kursk would be a good place to go next?