“Fury” is the new WWII tank combat movie starring Brad Pitt. It was directed and written by David Ayer. He earlier had written “U-571”, a movie for which he had to apologize for historical inaccuracies. This time he took on a purely fictional story of a tank in the waning days of World War II Europe. The tank is a M4A2E8 Sherman and it is participating in the drive into Nazi Germany. The crew is headed by Sgt. “Wardaddy” Collier (Pitt) and they have been together since North Africa. They are part of the 2nd Armored Division (the “Hell on Wheels” division). The movie was filmed in the English countryside and had a budget of approximately $80 billion. The producers relied on four authentic M4s and a Tiger 131 loaned by a museum. The Tiger is the only operational one in the world and this was the first time a genuine one was used in a war movie.
The movie opens in the aftermath of what must have been a tank melee. The title tank is the sole survivor of its platoon, but the assistant driver was killed. This opens the hatch for a green replacement from the secretarial pool named Norman (Logan Lerman). He is not exactly welcomed with open arms (like all other replacements in war movie history). Collier is determined to make a man out of him. Actually, he is determined to make him into the type of man that they have become. Norman will become a productive member of the crew once he learns to kill anything that moves and executes any S.S. bastard that crosses their path (because that’s what they would do to you). The arc is initiated with Norman starting off as a reluctant warrior with some naïve morals. He’s going to gain some testicles and lose that pesky conscience.
The movie moves through the typical war movie flow of action followed by rest and exposition. The combat scenes are amazing and among some of the best of recent war movies. There is an assault across a field that features a dual with anti-tank guns. Urban warfare of the tank versus sniper variety. A four on one scrimmage against the Tiger which ends up accurately reflecting the odds against Shermans. This particular encounter reflects back upon the opening title card that proclaimed that American tanks were outgunned and outmaneuvered by more advanced German tanks. What sets Fury apart from this fact is that Brad Pitt is in command. The final cataclysm involves the defense of a crossroads against a large S.S. infantry force. It’s last stand time. Surprisingly, the combat scenes are not shot in the “Band of Brothers” and “Saving Private Ryan” style. They rely mostly on explosions and tracers with a medium amount of quick cuts. Add to that the unique tank scenarios where you are racing to get that shot off before it’s your turret that is blown to Hell. The action will have you on the edge of your seat, but not feeling dizzy. You also will not need sunglasses to shade any bright colors. This film’s predominant color is mud. In case you don’t understand the enemy, the music is very Wagneresque.
Unfortunately, the rest and exposition scenes are troughs. Some of the interactions between the crew and the maturation and acceptance of Norman are awkward. There is a painfully forced blooding of the newbie that defies reality and is offensive toward WWII veterans. Ayer’s attempt to show the truly horrible effects of war on the psyches of the “good guys” veers too far into the trite territory of “warfare strips away your humanity”. There is also the equivalent of a dysfunctional family’s Thanksgiving dinner that includes the war trumps civilization theme.
The combat scenes create enough good will from war movie lovers to overcome some curious flaws. The film has some extended lulls between the balls to the wall (which happens to be the only graphic wounding that the movie does not depict) action scenes. Curious partly because Ayer finds no opportunity to develop the characters. They are all stereotypes. Pitt plays the hardened leader who is haunted by losses (although he has apparently lost only one man in over two years of serious action). The movie hints at some deep psychic wound, but never delivers. It also implies that the crew blames him for something, yet they are ready to die for him with little questioning. The crew is heterogeneous with the Bible-thumper named “Bible” (Shia LeBeouf probably not having to act too hard), the psychopathic hick named “Coon-Ass” (Jon Bernthal chewing scenery as a cracker, not a Cajun), and the obligatory minority wise-ass named “Gordo” (Michael Pena loving not having competition for audience appeal). The acting is inconsistent. Pitt is solid and obviously has watched film of previous actors playing the exact same role. LeBouef is effective in leaving one to wonder if “Bible” is supposed to be a nutcase or a role model. Depends on if you are a fundamentalist, I suppose. Lerman is in over his head and makes the arc hard to believe. He is cursing up a storm by the end, so there’s that. Bernthal is the weak link. You would be obnoxious too if you had dead meat tattooed on your fore-head.
The movie is definitely more enjoyable if you have not seen a lot of war movies. I found myself recognizing all the characters (Norman = Upham) and themes from previous movies. Heck, the movie ends with a last stand, who will survive scene. “We ain’t never run before.” And like all fictional cinematic last stands, don’t expect reality to interfere with the carnage. It is instructive to remind that this last stand is not based on a true story like “The Alamo” or “Zulu”. As usual in a war movie aimed at the general public, “Fury” builds to a climax that crosses over the line of reality into the realm of ridiculous. However, up until the end the film is a pretty good portrayal of the lives of tankers. The tank interior is authentic and the operation is well-enacted. The soldier talk is not jarring, although the addition of a catch phrase (“best job I ever had”) is a bit lame.
Once again I have the dilemma of not wanting to scare off any future war movies. They come along so seldom these days that you have to lower your expectations to not be crushed by unfulfilled anticipation. “Fury” is a bit better than I expected. I was skeptical about a Sherman taking on the German army by itself. The movie confirmed my fears, but it was not laughable and it’s not like we have a lot of great tank movies for it to live up to. I am not a big Sherman fan, but I admire the men who went into combat in them. This movie does them justice, but to be a truly great war movie it needed a better writer than David Ayer. With that said, he has improved since “U-571”.
GRADE = B-