A Lot of Blood and Mud in Fury
Review by Daniel Rester
“Wait until you see it.”
“What a man can do to another man.”
Those are some of the early words spoken by characters in writer-director David Ayer’s Fury. The film concerns the final days of WWII in Germany, following a group of Americans as they operate a Sherman tank to battle the Nazis. And Ayer certainly goes to great lengths to show what a man can do to another man when faced against each other in war.
Fury is a film that goes for visceral impact and realism when it comes to the WWII genre, taking some notes from Saving Private Ryan (1998) on that account. It presents a few ideas for thought here and there about men’s rationalizations for certain actions, but Fury is less about preaching (though some characters do exchange some Bible verses) and more about eye-opening characteristics of wartime. The movie does have its messages, but those looking for just a message movie or rich character development may be a bit disappointed. Even though Fury might not be very deep, though, I wouldn’t say that it fails. It sets out to give us a raw depiction of war and does just that successfully.
The characters who operate the tank — nicknamed “Fury — are led by Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), an Army Staff Sergeant. We also have Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), the canon operator, Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña), the driver, and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), the canon loader. After the men lose their machine gunner, they are joined by an inexperienced young man named Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) to take his place.
The group of men contains colorful, well-drawn characters, though they do fit into types and we also don’t get to learn much about them on a personal level. Still, Ayer and the actors make these guys believable as they both bond and spit venom at each other. Things are shaken up when Ellison joins the group as the men fight the Nazis, with Wardaddy testing the young man to see if he can “man up” and fight. The movie follows the characters over one day as they go from town to town and complete various tasks, so there is no big plot or mission surrounding them. Instead the film is about various moments the men go through and presenting some different components of the war.
Pitt is solid in the lead, though it is hard not to think of his character in Inglourious Basterds (2009) while watching him here. Peña and Bernthal get the least to do, but they also give strong performances and get us to believe that they have been through hell. The two standouts to me, though, are Lerman and (especially) LaBeouf. Lerman does an exceptional job of showing innocence lost due to the ugly circumstances that face him; his character arc within the story timeframe isn’t completely buyable, but the actor still sells the emotions well. LaBeouf is magnetic here and gives one of the best performances of his career. He takes the relatively thin character and gives him weight through his performance, showing us a conflicted man who must both destroy many enemies and protect his beliefs.
Ayer and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov stage everything very well, with the costumes and production design immensely aiding them. The director doesn’t shy away from showing terrible things like blown-off faces and people hanging, so be warned. Ayer purposely uses the technical aspects to get in your gut and put you on the edge of your seat, which he does successfully as he paints his grim and authentic picture of war — complete with smashed buildings, gray skies, torn-apart bodies, etc. Only the music score by Steven Price (who did the amazing music for last year’s Gravity) comes off as distracting when it comes to these filmmaking elements; it’s simply overbearing at times.
Fury has a lot of gripping moments, but it’s two particular scenes that elevate the film to another level. One is a scene involving two German women, which admittedly goes on a bit too long. However, it delivers tight-wire tension and lets the actors get the most out of their characters. The other scene involves a Tiger tank. That’s all I will say about the two scenes so as not to spoil much, but both of them are two of the most riveting scenes from the war genre in recent years.
I wish Fury was a bit more insightful when it comes to the ending of WWII and the tank units in particular, so it disappoints in that way. It also has its share of issues along the way before reaching an overlong and pretty obvious climax. Despite its flaws, though, Fury accomplishes its mission by being a beefy and hard-hitting war drama with excellent performances and powerful action scenes. It may not rank among great war films like Platoon (1986) or The Hurt Locker (2009), but it still rises high above average ones and makes its impact.
Score: 3 ½ out of 4 stars (Grade Equivalent for Me: A-).
MPAA Rating: R (for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout).
Runtime: 2 hours and 14 minutes.
U.S. Release Date: October 17th, 2014.