Fury is a tense, harrowing film that never falters in how authentic and honest it looks and feels, particularly when exploring the effect that war and being on the front lines has on soldiers doing their jobs and trusting their lives to one another. Its depiction of soldiers in wartime, their relationships to one another, to the enemy, and to the noncombatants caught in the crossfire, as well as the carnage of war itself, is just as unflinching and gruesome as it needs to be in order to maintain its credibility, make its point, and hold audiences’ attention. It’s hard to watch at times, for certain, but you’ll keep watching, because it’s that well done.
The film’s story centers around the crew of the American Sherman tank dubbed “Fury”, part of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division taking part in the Allies’ final advance on Berlin in April, 1945. This crew, who all go by “war names” earned in the heat of combat, has at the start of the film lost one of their own, a man they’d fought alongside for years. The remaining four — “Wardaddy”, the commander (Brad Pitt); “Bible”, the gunner (Shia Labeouf); “Coon-Ass”, the ordinance loader (Jon Bernthal); and “Gordo”, the driver (Michael Peña) — are given precious little time to mourn their loss before they’re saddled with both a new mission and a new platoon-mate. The mission is dangerous, but it’s not what’s most troubling to these hardened and war-weary men. It’s that their new crewmate, Norman (Logan Lerman), a kid trained to be an office clerk and then sent to the front lines to bolster waning reserves, is about as green as a soldier can get. Inexperienced, unnerved by what he’s already seen and thoroughly unprepared for what he will see, Norman is viewed by the Fury’s crew as just as dangerous to their lives as the Germans shooting at them at every turn. Simple, inevitable fact: if he can’t do his job or can’t do it right, he’ll get them all killed.
Wardaddy leads his crew and their new addition through one single day that sees both the chaos of battle, a few brief moments of respite found in a captured village, and looking death square in the eyes as their mission to secure a vital link in the Allies supply lines in Germany goes horribly awry. It’s his job to fulfill the mission and keep the Allies’ forward advance secure. It’s also his job to keep the men — his men, his brothers, even Norman — safe, and to kill as many more Germans as he can until the fighting is really over.
“Best job I ever had,” he says.
Writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch, Harsh Times) delivers a vision of World War II unique in the sense that it’s stripped almost entirely of the sense of glory or victorious purpose that often characterizes films about World War II. There’s no confetti in the air and no victory parades to be found here, no grand battles and men of destiny with stars on their epaulets and helmets to be found. Instead, Ayers gives us dirt, boots crushed into bloody, grimy mud puddles, piles of bodies being shoved into mass graves by tanks and trucks, and children pressed into service for the desperate Nazis who either get killed by Allied machine gun fire or by SS officers when they refuse to fight. Ayers’s attention to detail here, as in just about everything Ayers has penned going back to his controversial screenplay for the World War II-inspired submarine thriller U-571, is his principal tool in establishing an unfailing sense of authenticity as well as maintaining a consistent emotional tone throughout the film, and he uses that tool very, very well.
That attention to detail also extends to the film’s characters, which at first resemble familiar war movie archetypes, but thankfully all show enough nuance and complexity to transcend those archetypes. Pitt, of course, leads the cast and is solid as the practical and stoic Wardaddy, a man haunted by the things he’s done but smart enough to know he can’t show just how much he’s been affected in front of the men counting on him to make the tough decisions. Pitt and Logan Lerman (Noah, Perks of Being a Wallflower) get the larger share of dramatic beats as the hardened veteran and the greenhorn to whom he becomes commander/tormentor/father figure in order to get him into any condition at all to fight, but the other members of the ensemble each have opportunities to shine. Shia LaBeouf’s work here deserves particular notice: while hiding his face under dirt, grime, and a bushy mustache, he puts forth a memorable supporting turn as Bible, the man tasked with operating the tank’s primary instrument of death and destruction — its main gun — while also solemnly quoting scripture to his crewmates and reaffirming his personal faith, whether the guys want to hear it or not. LaBeouf convincingly conveys the conviction of a deeply religious man who’s been scarred by the things he’s seen and done, but clings to his belief in the difference between killing and murder in order to do the job he does day in and day out. His work here is further evidence that his talents are best suited for character actor work in serious drama, rather than being the face of splashy, action and FX-heavy summer fare as he did in the Transformers films. LaBeouf has made himself tabloid and scandal fodder with eccentric behavior more often than not in recent years — here’s hoping he devotes more of his time and efforts towards work like this in the future.
Score: 4.5 out of 5
Starring Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal, Jason Isaacs, Scott Eastwood. Directed by David Ayer.
Running Time: 134 minutes
Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout.