Fury is a reminder of how hellish life must’ve been like for guys suffering through tank warfare during WWII. This is another film that’s been making the HD movie channel rounds of late, and I always stop on it for a few beats, because it thoroughly kicks ass at almost every opportunity. Embracing the gung-ho spirit of old-school Hollywood action flicks, writer/director David Ayer has considerably upped his game as a big league filmmaker with this ruggedly fashioned, butt-kicking trudge through the rain-soaked and bombed-out battlefields and cities of late WWII combat in Germany. The film carried the hardened spirit of a late-era John Wayne movie or something that Fuller or Peckinpah would have fancied, with just as much anti-war sentiment as pro-American image making. The Americans are good and Nazis are bad – it’s the same template Hollywood has used for eons, and for good reason: Who doesn’t like some dead Nazis? This is a purposefully blunt and graphically violent combat picture that, while stopping from time to time for a moment of reflection (the scene at the dinner table with the women is the best in the film), is mainly about how awful war truly is, and how utterly unnerving it must’ve been to be in one of those Sherman tanks.
Brad Pitt can do no wrong – he’s our Movie Star of the Moment and he owns this picture. Here, he’s gruff and grizzled, leading a surly band of supporting actors (Shia LeBeouf as the introspective one; Michael Pena as the wise-ass; Logan Lerman as the rookie; and a skeevy Jon Bernthal as the potentially unstable wild card), and he completely carries the film on his manly shoulders. Lerman shines as the rookie gunner who needs to learn quick how to adapt, there’s fine supporting work from LaBeouf and the rangy Pena, but it’s Bernthal (the numerous scene stealer from The Wolf of Wall Street) who makes the biggest impression playing an emotionally broken, simple-minded, shell of a man who has seen too much combat for one lifetime.
The measured, gritty cinematography by Roman Vasyanov made excellent use of the claustrophobic confines of the tank interiors and favored clear spatial geography over frenetic shaky-cam aesthetics, while the bombed-out, lived-in production design went a long way in creating a dangerous, volatile atmosphere. Fury is muddy, gray, damp, and messy, always tense which can be a hard thing to sustain, and focused on presenting a mostly unrelenting narrative that bows to Hollywood conventions from time to time but still stays true and honest to what it would have been like to be in this horrific situation. My one complaint might be the slightly overbearing musical score; sometimes less is more but I get what Ayer was going for – maximum, direct impact. I also appreciated the refreshing lack of noticeable CGI. While not an earth-shattering entry into the war genre, Fury is dependable, entertaining, and effectively brutal when it comes to showcasing the bloody battles that tank operators went through. The ending doesn’t go all Hollywood which was also a plus, and while one might question the final outcome slightly, it makes enough sense within the scenario that Ayer created while still leaving you with enough of a lump in your throat. “They’re young. And alive.”