- RatedNC16 /GenreAction, Drama, War
American director David Ayer has a talent for nihilism.
Violence, malediction, moral ambiguity and tensions between men in tough, brutal jobs – these are some of the things that the 46-year-old has tackled in movies such as ‘End of Watch’, ‘Harsh Times’, ‘Training Day’ and the recent ‘Sabotage’.
But in ‘Fury’, Ayer throws us right into the fiery furnace of war, a Sherman tank named “Fury” – something far removed but yet oddly familiar in his usual gritty cop dramas.
Yes, war is hell. And unlike most WWII movies such as ‘Saving Private Ryan’, ‘Das Boot’ or ‘The Dirty Dozen’ which tend to embellish events and gloss over its barbarity and what it does to men, ‘Fury’ shows us the big bad bloody wounds up close.
The result is one of the best war movies in recent years coupled with virtuoso performances by its cast and jaw-dropping action.
MORE: 10 greatest war movies
The movie takes place in the waning days of World War II and it follows battle-scarred Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) who leads his tank squad in an offensive push towards Berlin.
The crew members include the tank’s Scripture-quoting gunner, Corporal Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf sans paper bag over head and arty histrionics); country-boy assistant gunner, Private Grady “Coon Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal); and Hispanic driver, technician Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena).
WIDE-EYED SOLDIER WORN DOWN
Also diving headlong into the heat of battle is Private Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), the tank crew’s newest forward machine gunner.
Lerman gives the performance of his career as his character anchors the film. He is our proxy – a rookie, only eight weeks into joining the army, ignorant of the harsh realities of war and definitely not the violent sort unlike his battle-hardened comrades who have blood on their hands.
That is until he is faced with a tough choice – kill or get everyone else killed.
“Wait till you see it – what a man can do to another man,” one of his tank-mates aptly puts it before we see Norman’s transformation from wide-eyed soldier to one whose innocence is smeared.
Ayer turns up the violence to the nth degree, effectively searing the dehumanising effects of war into our brains.
STUFF OF NIGHTMARES
‘Fury’ is 134 minutes of death by tank, rifle, hanging and other unimaginable and brutal ways. Not for the squeamish. Just when you think it is going to be over, the tank crew rolls deeper into enemy territory and the kill count stacks up.
The films tank-based approach is a novel one. Like the cop cars in Ayer’s other movies, the tank is a home and base of action.
The pressure-cooker atmosphere of the tank is the perfect setting to flesh out the relationships among the men, of how military service make brothers out of individuals who might otherwise avoid each other in civilian life.
Pitt is spectacular in ‘Fury’. His sergeant is your typical scene-chewing, one-liner-spewing warrior – stoic and decisive. Yet his steely resolve reveals a vulnerable interior, one of a leader troubled by the deeds that he must lead his men to do.
The film is also strengthened by the supporting performances of LaBeouf and Pena. LaBeouf reportedly even pulled out a tooth for this show (what dedication) and Pena easily makes his character effusive and likeable.
The atrocity in this film is balanced by emotional yet tense moments, such as one involving two women (Alicia von Rittberg and Anamaria Marinca) in a captured town.
The final showdown with the tank crew facing off an incoming brigade of 300 Nazi soldiers is pure action escapism.
The only letdown is that the narrative seems too contrived and predictable, unlike Ayer’s previous efforts such as ‘Training Day’ and ‘End of Watch’.
Still, as a genre movie, it is hard not to place ‘Fury’ up there with other standout WWII flicks. If that is what the director was aiming for, then it is “mission accomplished”.
‘Fury’ opens in cinemas 22 October 2014