“Fury” is on one level one of the great war/action films, a face-first plunge into the blood, guts and terror of combat.
But writer/director David Ayer (“Training Day,” “End of Watch”) is aiming for more than just a stomach-churning visit to war’s visceral horrors. He wants to show how combat dehumanizes the individuals who must do the dirty work.
It’s impossible to watch the trailers for “Fury” — with a grimy Brad Pitt in charge of a World War II tank crew — and not be reminded of the Nazi-killing good ol’ boy Pitt portrayed in “Inglourious Basterds.”
That 2009 Quentin Tarantino film was an exaggerated, almost hallucinogenic comic fantasy of warfare. Ayer, though, plays it straight, eschewing overtly comic elements and pushing for an unflinching earnestness.
Only trouble is, he may have pushed too hard.
We are introduced to the five-man crew of Fury, a Sherman tank, on a German battlefield in the spring of 1945, during the last gasps of the war. The tank commander, Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt), makes short, silent work of a passing German officer (a knife in the eyeball does the trick nicely). He then climbs back into the tank occupied by three living crewmen and the headless corpse of a fourth.
We’re all accustomed to war movies stocked with various American “types”: a Jew, a Hispanic, a black, a college boy, a redneck. We’re meant to identify with them.
Just try identifying with the creeps who live in Fury. The mechanic Grady Travis (“Walking Dead’s” Jon Bernthal) seems more mumbling Neanderthal than modern man. The gunner, Boyd “Bible” Swan (a nearly unrecognizable mustachioed Shia LaBeouf), is intensely religious — he abstains from drink and women but seems to find sexual release in blowing Germans all to hell. The driver, Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), is a bit closer to normal, until you realize that he and Travis are most likely brothers-in-rape.
After years of fighting, whatever civilized veneer these guys had has been stripped away. No longer all-American boys, they are more of a renegade biker gang, killing prisoners and then retreating to their Sherman tank like wolves to their lair.
These characters are borderline cartoonish. Only some terrific acting keeps “Fury” from spinning off into pure goofiness.
Into this bubbling stew of anger, hatred and volatility Ayer adds an innocent, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a clerk/typist who is expected — without training — to drive a tank and mow down Germans. The kid must learn the hard way to shoot first if he and his crew mates are going to survive. The question is whether he’ll sacrifice his humanity along the way.
In a long and very tense passage set in an apartment, two young German women (Anamaria Marinca, Alicia von Rittberg) quite sensibly view the newly arrived Yanks as potential murderers and sexual predators. That we’re not sure just what evil these guys — our guys — are capable of makes for some nerve-knotting suspense.
Pitt is terrific as Wardaddy, who in front of his men is a die-hard killing machine (he forces the new kid to execute a quivering German POW) but collapses in convulsive sobs when given a moment alone.
Nearly matching him is Lerman (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”), whose reaction to the horrors around him is heartbreaking.
And who would have thought that LaBeouf could go so deep? Not only does “The Transformers” star seem to have aged a decade, but he captures the agony of a once moral man who recognizes all too well the beast combat has made of him. Stare into those haunted eyes … if you dare.
Action fans will not be disappointed. “Fury” is a slam-bam, blood-spattered, convulsively kinetic experience.
But if you ever thought that tank warfare might be cool, this movie will disabuse you of the notion. The Shermans had far less armor than their German equivalents, and their crews suffered a stratospheric casualty rate matched only by that of submariners. One well-placed shell could turn a tank into an incinerator. (“Fury” provides an all-too graphic example of just such an incident.)
Technically the film is first-rate. Rarely has the mud and blood of warfare been captured with such grim fidelity. Does the sun shine even once in this movie? Or is that overcast sky the perfect metaphor for a world in which conventional morality has been ruthlessly smothered?
You can read more of Robert W. Butler’s reviews at butlerscinemascene.com.
Rated R | Time: 2:14
ROLLING IN AUTHENTICITY
“Fury” takes place in the heart of Germany, but it was mainly shot in England. The big reason: the supply of vintage Sherman tanks there. In addition, the Tank Museum in Bovington, near the English Channel, lent the production the world’s only working German Tiger, which was abandoned on a hillside in Tunisia 70 years ago.
For interior shots, filmmakers built a set with fly-away walls so they could shoot from all angles. The set sat on a pivoting platform that could shake and rock like a real tank.
| Sharon Hoffmann, The Star
Source: Columbia Pictures
Two more World War II stories, both true, both with Oscar buzz, are headed to theaters soon:
“Unbroken,” directed by Angelina Jolie, tells the saga of Olympic track star Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), who survived a plane crash in the Pacific only to be captured by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. (Dec. 25)
In “The Imitation Game,” Benedict Cumberbatch is mathematician Alan Turing, who led a group of geniuses (including Keira Knightley) to break the Nazis’ Enigma code. But in 1952, he was arrested for the criminal offense of homosexuality. Morten Tyldum of Norway directs. (No KC date yet.)