Directed by: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Scott Eastwood, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena, Jason Isaacs
Like the western, the WWII movie is a rarity today. Despite the success of 1998's Saving Private Ryan, only Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds, which reimagined the conflict through a spaghetti western lens, has made any impact on the big screen. On the small screen, the excellent 2001 series Band of Brothers seemed to serve as the final word on the conflict, packing every scenario imaginable into its 10 hour long episodes. What more can a WWII drama add that we haven't seen before? In Fury's case, little.
If you've seen a handful of war movies, you'll be familiar with every chord writer director David Ayer plays here. Logan Lerman is the young idealist who believes he can somehow make it through the war without getting blood on his hands, or his conscience. Pitt is the hardened Sarge, who, determined to keep his men alive at any cost, attempts to turn him into an effective soldier. Shia Lebouef is the bible-thumper who believes a higher power is looking out for him and his buddies. Jon Bernthal is Jon Bernthal, the aggressive redneck. Michael Pena is the token latino, as usual. No prizes for guessing how all this will play out.
Despite the abundance of cliches at play, Fury is compelling stuff for a good chunk of its running time. Ayer creates a stifling degree of tension in the movie's first half by keeping us in the dark as to his character's intentions. For a long time it's unclear who the villains of the piece are, and we're left questioning whether Lerman should be more scared of the Nazis or the seemingly deranged men he's cooped up in a tank with. An extended sequence involving Pitt and Lerman's discovery of two pretty German girls is wrought with violent sexual tension, keeping us guessing as to how this scenario will climax.
Set in the closing stages of the war, when Nazi Germany was all but defeated and reliant on child soldiers, Fury poses some heavy moral questions. Lerman is initially unable to shoot German troops, because the soldiers at the end of his tank gun's barrel are merely kids. After a cathartic incident, however, he becomes filled with hatred for the Nazis, but it's all too morally convenient that the final climactic set-piece involves not a squadron of cherub faced children, but a 300 strong battalion of SS soldiers, the worst of all Nazis, as the film frequently reminds us throughout.
As a director, Ayer proves lacking when handling the film's action sequences, though he commendably avoids the usual shaky-cam aesthetic that so many film-makers fall back on in such scenarios. Fury is, ironically, at its best when its protagonists are away from their vehicle, and Ayer creates more tension in quiet moments of human interaction than any of the film's bombastic battlefield scenes.
Neither a great action movie or a particularly insightful look at the effects of war, Fury is at its most arresting in its early stages, exploring the gray areas of conflict. Sadly, it gradually all becomes very black and white, with a gung-ho third act that plays out like The Expendables in a can.
By Eric Hillis