Movie Review: “Fury”

Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena
David Ayer

Dayid Ayer has always made macho movies; it’s evident even in his early screenplays for films like “The Fast and the Furious” and “Training Day.” But once he stepped behind the camera, Ayer’s proclivity for telling stories about manly men doing manly things became somewhat of a trademark for the filmmaker, one that he wears like a badge of honor in his latest movie, “Fury.” Although it’s nice to see Ayer taking a much-needed break from the crime thrillers that have dominated his career since the beginning, “Fury” also represents a more mature piece of work for him, showcasing his growth as a storyteller without abandoning the gritty style that sets the film apart from the countless others in the genre.

The movie takes place in April 1945, and while World War II has all but ended, the fanatical German resistance continues to fight, forcing women and children to pick up arms and hanging those who refuse. The U.S. military is suffering as well, but with an end in sight, they make their final push through Germany to wipe out the remaining Nazis. At the front of the lines is Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), a seasoned tank veteran who’s been fighting with the same crew – including Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) – since North Africa. But when their assistant driver is killed, clerk typist Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is ordered to replace him, despite having no experience on the battlefield, let alone inside a tank.

That’s about as close to a plot as the movie has, because it basically just follows Wardaddy’s crew around Germany from one bloody battle to the next, climaxing with a wonderfully staged standoff between the men of Fury (the name of the Sherman tank that Wardaddy commands) and an entire battalion of SS soldiers. It’s fantastically intense stuff, as are most of the battle sequences in the film, including an edge-of-your-seat showdown between three American tanks and the bigger, much stronger German Tiger tank. The action is also incredibly brutal, sending a clear message about the movie’s tone from the opening shot of Pitt’s character killing a Nazi by stabbing him through the eye. That scene is nothing compared to some of the other violence on display (think “Saving Private Ryan”), but it’s worth noting that it never feels gratuitous.

Though revolving a movie around a tank may not seem very compelling, it’s actually what makes “Fury” such a refreshing take on the WWII conflict. Ayer captures the claustrophobia and helplessness of the whole tank experience (they may be powerful weapons, but they’re also large, slow-moving targets that double as metal coffins), while the actors form a great camaraderie that feels every bit as genuine as the bond that real-life tank crews undoubtedly developed from spending so much time together. Pitt is excellent as Wardaddy, a man so much in his element that he wouldn’t know what do with himself once the war ended; Lerman delivers some of his finest work yet as the audience’s entry point into the story; and Pena, Bernthal and LaBeouf round out the core quintet with solid turns in smaller, but no less important, supporting roles.

They leave their biggest mark on the film during the quieter, character-driven moments that Ayer injects in between all the fighting, digging deeper into the psychological damage that they’ve incurred along the way, and the horrors that Lerman’s rookie can look forward to experiencing himself. Nevertheless, while these scenes make it a more well-rounded (and emotionally complex) film, “Fury” is most enjoyable when the titular vehicle is unleashed on the battlefield. Though it’s a little too long at 135 minutes, this raw and unflinching look at the brutality of WWII and the effect it had on the soldiers who lived through it is one of the best war movies of the past decade.