If ever a movie has been visually bleaker than Fury, Fury has seen it and used it as a platform to be bleaker still. David Ayer’s war effort really only has two colours: The dirty, grimy grey of dust and rubble; and the bright, almost blinding yellow of gunfire and fire. Everything else exists somewhere within these two spectrums, which, in any other movie, would be an insult to the capabilities of our eyes, but here, in the muck of World War II, fits just right.
Fury is a technically superior war movie with all the right tones, shades, props, costumes, moods. It is unrelenting in its pursuit of war’s great tragedy, and depicts violence not as something to enjoy and mimic but as a plague in which human lives are shattered. This is a violent movie, as war is violent. We are shown soldiers, both dead and alive, becoming pancakes under the treads of tanks. A number of soldiers get their heads blown off by heavy artillery (in one instance a tank commander’s torso shoots into the woods while his legs remain in the tank). Eyes are stabbed. Thighs are impaled. Faces are shot. And so on. For parents who’ve brought your little kids to see this movie, you should have checked into the theatre next to you for Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014).
For the war audience, all this action will be warmly welcomed, and it is filmed to evoke the real horror of war. There are deeply poignant shots of an elderly German lady slicing meat off a dead horse and of a bride surrendering into American-occupied soil still wearing her wedding dress. Ayer’s message here is that war, in addition to taking lives, disrupts even the most routine activities. There is very little sentimentalism in his vision of war, which is a decision by him made with a resounding compassion for his subject matter. Ayer’s family consists of a number of war veterans; he grew up reading books and autobiographies outlining the armoured assault into Germany and used them as inspiration to write this fictional account of the tank Fury, an M4 Sherman whose days began in Africa fighting the Nazis and ended up deep in German territory, still fighting Nazis.
Commanding Fury is Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), a veteran with zero affection for the Germans, a bit like Lt. Aldo Raine, also played by Pitt. His crew consists of Boyd (Shia LaBeouf), the God-fearing Bible-reciter; Trini (Michael Peña), tank pilot; Grady (Jon Bernthal), the cannon munitions loader; and newbie Norman (Logan Lerman), who is trained to be a clerk but finds himself assigned to Fury anyway.
Norman aside, Fury is a tight ship. “Ain’t no crew been together longer than we have”, Boyd boasts. Their job is to kill Nazis. Norman’s job is to type condolence letters when the Nazis kill them. You see how it is. You see how Norman will mature as the movie rumbles along. Here’s an extra hint: He’s averse to killing another human being, in a war where all anyone does is kill human beings. Do you think he will kill someone (and like it) before the end?
Fury’s ultimate objective is to hold an important crossroads. What’s the name of this crossroads? We don’t know. We don’t know the name of any town or route the Americans take. This, I think, is much like real war, where the trauma is so imminent that most soldiers have no idea what their next objective is, or why they have to hold their position even when all likelihood of survival seems impossible. The names of towns are not important. Get in, kill bad guys, take over the hold and move on. For most of these boys, all they want to do is go home.
I sat completely engrossed for the first hour and a half. There is a splendid sequence in a German apartment where a couple of Fury crew members find love, hospitality, and humanity. And then the morning comes and delivers a breakfast scene so sharp and tense I thought one of them was going to get killed. The apartment is owned by a beautiful lady and her cousin who, perhaps, also finds humanity in the trespassing Americans.
Alas, Fury builds itself to a height it cannot reach, and Ayer settles, rather disappointingly, for a climax in the vein of 300 (2006) that produces tragic heroes when it should be challenging us with innovative dramatic manoeuvres. The set up happens naturally, but the all-out battle that ensues goes on for way too long, occasionally taking the time to pause when a eulogy is required for a fallen comrade. Characters get their final words. Heroic feats are undertaken and sacrificed. A star is born from the dust. And Fury stands like a monument amongst ashes.
Best Moment | The entire sequence inside the German apartment, from the time Don breaks in to the time they all leave the following morning.
Worst Moment | There are a few sour moments, but none that stand out as particularly bad.