Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: David Ayer
Stars: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Alicia von Rittberg, Jason Isaacs, Xavier Samuel, Jim Parrack, Scott Eastwood, Kevin Vance, Anamarie Marinca.
This powerful and intense World War Two drama sees Brad Pitt back killing Nazis, something he did so effectively in Tarantino’s bloody and violent Inglorious Basterds. But there is little of the tongue in cheek humour or cinematic references that shape his revisionist take on that war. Rather this is a more straightforward tale of heroism and sacrifice, and a look at the horrors and futility of war.
The film is set in 1945, during the dying days of the war in Europe. US tank crews were barreling their way through Germany. But the US Sherman tanks were no match for the stronger superior German tanks, and casualties were high. Fury follows one tank crew on a mission into the heart of German territory over a period of a couple of days.
The crew is led by Collier (Pitt), who began the war killing Nazis in Africa and is now killing Germans in Germany. He has been aged and hardened by his experiences. He is also a little cynical and pragmatic. “Ideals are peaceful; history is violent,” he says at one point. Collier tries to keep his tight knit crew focused and alive, but he also knows when to let them let off a bit of steam and unwind from the pressures of combat.
Collier’s crew consists of the easygoing driver Trini (Michael Pena), the quite and deeply religious gunner Boyd (Shia LaBeouf), and the boorish and aggressive mechanic Grady (Jon Bernthal), who is something of a volatile loose cannon. Their newest crew member is the virginal, green and scared Norman (Logan Lerman), who has only been in the army for a couple of months. A clerk by training he can type 60 words a minute, but has never seen a shot fired in anger. After witnessing his first killing he throws up. In the close confines of a tank in battle, trust is important, and the rest of the crew are distrustful of Norman’s presence, his apparent weakness and lack of combat experience. For Norman, it is a quick and bloody baptism of fire. He also experiences a brief moment of respite and comfort in the arms of a young German girl (Alicia Von Rittberg) after liberating their village, a moment that is bittersweet and forced him to develop a tough exterior.
After their tank becomes disabled, the crew are forced to make a last ditch stand against overwhelming odds, an action that seems both incredibly heroic and futile. But military history is full of such heroic actions. And the cinema loves to celebrate such famous pyrrhic victories – Zulu depicted the massacre of British troops at Rorke’s Drift; 300 dramatised the Greek’s defence of a vital pass at Thermopylae against overwhelming odds; The Charge Of The Light Brigade depicted the historic suicidal charge of mounted soldiers into the Russian cannons during the Crimean War; and even Custer’s last stand has provided material for filmmakers.
There is nothing noble in war and the wanton destruction of lives, but somehow writer and director David Ayer (who wrote The Fast And The Furious and the gritty Training Day, etc) seems to elevate the tank crew’s actions into something epic yet tragic. Ayer gave us films like End Of Watch, which used the found footage and hand held camera dynamic to service his story of a couple of doomed cops battling drug dealers in a notoriously tough crime infested district of LA. Here Ayer is again exploring doomed warriors and concepts of brotherhood, but he eschews his hand held ethos for a more straight forward approach to this grim and relentless narrative. He also brings a wonderful claustrophobic atmosphere to those scenes set inside the cramped confines of the tank.
The main cast develop a strong chemistry that is credible, and each of the five main characters is clearly delineated and given their own distinct personality. There is also a strong sense of camaraderie amongst these brothers in arms, and some grim gallows humour amongst the tank crew, which is their way of coping with the intense pressure and tension of their situation.
Lerman is better known for playing youthful and more innocent roles, and he previously played the hero worshipping youngster seduced by Russell Crowe’s gunfighter in the remake of 3.10 To Yuma. Here he again taps into some darker aspects of his screen persona as his Norman loses his innocence and grows desensitised to the violence around him. And Pitt brings authority and gravitas to his performance as the sanguine Collier. The subtle relationship that develops between the grizzled battle-hardened Collier and the rookie Norman adds an unusually tender note to the material.
His role here marks something of a change for LaBeouf, who delivers an impressive performance that goes some way towards erasing memories of his bizarre off screen behaviour and personal meltdown. Bernthal is unnerving in The Walking Dead, and here he is volatile and unpredictable. And Australian actor Xavier Samuel (from Twilight, etc) has a small role here as a platoon commander.
But it is the brutally realistic depiction of the combat scenes, with mud, blood and not much glory that Ayer excels. The action scenes are well staged, and Ayer doesn’t flinch away from depicting the grim horrors of combat. There are some quite intense and tough scenes here that are the equal of anything in the spectacular opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan or the recent Lone Survivor. Fury boasts some great set pieces and impressive action, but the intensity and realism also makes for quite a draining and exhausting experience.