As far as war films go, stories about tank crews are pretty rare. The only recent exception to this is Samuel Moaz’s Lebanon, which does a fantastic job in confining its audience to events shot entirely inside the tank. Fury heads down a different track to Moaz’s 2009 drama, instead choosing to blur the lines between a Saving Private Ryan ‘realities of war’ approach with a flavor of some of the 1970s “guys-on-a-mission” format that so many of us enjoyed, whilst bringing in some Tarantino-esk traits found in Inglorious Basterds.
In true spirit of his Basterds turn, Brad Pitt commands a tank full of quality actors as Don Collier, who holds the appropriate nickname of “Wardaddy”. Alongside him, LaBeouf is a much more mature and capable showman as he depicts Boyd “Bible” Swan, the man behind the canon who’s shooting as well as his quoting of scripture, is reminiscent of the sniper from Saving Private Ryan. In charge of the steering is the faultless Michael Pena, who is well known to writer-director David Ayer from his proficient performance in End of Watch. Supporting all of this is the ever aspiring Jon Bernthal, seen here as the dumb but destructive loader Grady Travis, a man who’s brain to braun ratio makes him perfect for his job but prevents him from understanding the complexities of the war he’s in.
Providing a perspective for the audience is a fresh, childlike new recruit called Norman Ellison, played by the highly-skilled Logan Lerman. Norman, a clerical typist with no field experience, arrives at the front line only hours after the men of Fury’s latest battle – which had resulted in the separation of his predecessors’ face from its skull. Fearing his inexperience will cost them their lives, the existing crew members don’t take to kindly to the quality of replacement. Through Norman we become passengers inside this destructive machine, witnessing the blood, sweat and tears of 24hours on the road – battling monstrous enemies, creeping through potential ambushes and climaxing in the defense of a key crossroad in the heart of Germany.
Unlike most war films, the story is ambitious enough to be told in the latter days of the war, where the crew has already experienced hell on Earth a dozen times before. Due to this, it almost feels like we’re watching one of the final episodes of Band of Brothers, having already witnessed some of the horror and turmoil of battle. Ayer is confident to trust his audience’s awareness of military drama and focuses on letting the characters tell their story, rather than establishing the horrors of war that we have already seen depicted time and time again.
Like the well oiled machine that they have driven from Africa to Germany, the cast work extremely effectively together. Scenes of all out war, most notably an enthralling standoff with a seemingly indestructible German Tiger Tank, are viciously intense and a far cry from the quieter moments in the film where the soldiers start to fall apart in their mentally fatigued state. A scene where the crew invite themselves to dinner with two local German girls illustrates just how mental torn apart they have become. These contradictions of team spirit and uncertain relationships forefronts the toll that war has taken on these men – dependant on each other in battle but aggressive and confrontational in moments of calm. To paraphrase a quote from the film, for many of these actors it’s the “best role they ever had”.
Fury’s only real crime is it’s pacing which jumps from one extreme to another without having a mounting sense of anticipation before the final battle. A large part of the middle of the film drains much of the adrenaline that had been building up in the opening third, which lessens the impact later on.
Apart from that Fury is a gritty, brutally entertaining film that is incredibly enthralling to watch, the cinematic feel complements the action in many key moments as well. This is one of those films you will want to put on to test out your new TV or surround sound system – full of hissing bullets, thunderous tank shell explosions and a language of war cries between the crewman that makes you want to get involved in the operation yourself.
As far as World War 2 epics go, there isn’t enough here to blow Saving Private Ryan out of the water but it definitely is in the same battlefield as Spielberg’s classic and isn’t afraid to fire a few shots across it’s bow.