Battlefield reality and macho myth messily collide in David Ayer’s Fury, a World War II drama that looks like a history lesson but unloads more like a comic book.
Brad Pitt seems as if he’s picking up where he left off from Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. He once again plays a drawling Nazi slayer who has no qualms about spilling Aryan blood — as a head-stabbing kill quickly establishes at the outset.
This time, though, he’s in considerably tighter quarters as tank commander Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier, who is every bit as scarred as the Sherman machine he rolls across German terrain, its gun muzzle scrawled with the “Fury” of the title.
Wardaddy is accompanied by the usual stereotypes: lead gunner Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), who praises the Lord but also pulls the trigger; Latino driver Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña), who can turn Fury on a dime; mechanic Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (The Walking Dead’s Jon Bernthal), who might be in a psycho ward if not for WWII; and new guy Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a typist and pacifist “accidentally” teamed with this crew, who is going to have to learn how to kill or be killed.
It’s April, 1945, and World War II is rapidly winding down, but the losing Germans aren’t willing to go down quietly. In fact, they’re going down angrily and violently, especially on their homeland soil.
“Why don’t they just give up?” another commander asks Wardaddy.
“Would you?” comes the world-wise reply.
Brute force and blood are required to snap German resolve and push the Allied advance, and that’s exactly what Wardaddy and his men are trained to explosively deliver, their killer instincts overriding their extreme exhaustion.
A testosterone tinderbox like this is red meat for writer/director Ayer, who has strayed far afield from the L.A. police dramas he’s best known for, among them Training Day (writer only), Harsh Times and End of Watch. But he’s certainly no stranger to claustrophobic WWII experiences: he co-wrote U-571, a 2000 thriller about a German U-boat commandeered by U.S. Navy men.
Few can match Ayer’s gift for authentically gritty dialogue, which he doesn’t dilute with a surfeit of gallows humour, even though a laugh or two might be appreciated.
And the portrait he and Roman Vasyanov paint of the battered tank and the shell-ravaged landscape around it, both drained of colour and humanity, should be required viewing for anyone who thinks a ground war can be easily fought and won. (Although, for my money, the 2009 Israeli tank drama Lebanon is more instructive in this regard.)
Attention to details give Fury heft and value, as does solid acting, but Ayer seems to lose his resolve in two scenes that are straight out of a Sgt. Fury Marvel Comics episode, or maybe a Hollywood script rewrite.
An interlude in which Wardaddy and his men invade the apartment of two terrified German women in a ruined town, demanding food and companionship, helps establish the basic decency of Pitt’s character and the difficulties he has reining in his brutish soldiers. But it runs so long, it begins to feel like a cynical attempt to up the estrogen count in a movie more likely to attract male viewers than female ones.
And the film’s bloody finale, in which Wardaddy and his men choose to take on 300 SS soldiers in a crossroads shootout rather than flee to safety, simply beggars belief. Their reckless heroism would make sense if they had a specific mission goal, such as the D-Day beach assault depicted in Saving Private Ryan, which Fury often evokes.
There is no such goal here, but the scene does serve to further illustrate the film’s most sage comment on war, once again in the words of Wardaddy: “Ideals are peaceful, history is violent.”