With Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal. Written and directed by David Ayer. Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout. 134 minutes.
FURY is a solid World War II drama that has some original flourishes as it covers familiar tropes about the madness of war. After a season of comic book battles where the death tolls were the equivalent of video game scores, it’s important for a film that reminds us of the actual consequences of military action.
It’s April 1945, and everyone senses that the war in Europe is close to ending. However, the Nazis are refusing to surrender, although American troops are bearing down on Berlin, and even children are being sent off to fight. Our focus is an American tank commanded by Sgt. Collier (Brad Pitt), who has kept his crew intact through fighting in Africa, France, and Belgium. As the story opens, one of their members has been killed, and is replaced by Norman (Logan Lerman), a clerk typist who has been told he’s now going into battle.
As expect, the grizzled crew–Bible (Shia LaBeouf), Gordo (Michael Peña), and Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal)–give him a hard time, both as a rookie and as a reminder of the member of their team whom they lost. Over the course of the day, both the sergeant and the crew make life rough for him, but after he finally proves himself, that starts to change.
Pitt, who was also one of the film’s executive producers, has the most complex role. A literally battle-scarred warrior, he declares that his position as sergeant is the best job he’s ever had, and yet after a particular brutal scene where he forces Norm to kill a German prisoner, he also proves to have a somewhat sensitive side as well. Unfortunately, most of the characters are walking clichés, from the abrasive hick (Bernthal) to LaBeouf’s Bible-thumping soldier asking everyone if they’ve been “saved.” It’s not the performances that are flawed. It’s the script that reduces the characters to foxhole caricatures.
For that matter Norman–sensitively played by Lerman–is a bit of a cliché himself: the green replacement soldier who becomes the stand-in for the audience. He goes from a reluctance to kill to gleefully slaughtering the enemy as he learns what war is really about: kill or be killed. The climactic battle leads to a somewhat ironic ending as we come to realize that even the “Good War” (i.e., World War II which clearly was a battle against evil) had its ambiguities.
The film works best in its unexpected moments, which are often moments of violence. Someone is doing their job, whether soldier or civilian, and in the next instance they are dead. There’s no justice or reason. As one character says of a dead comrade, “His number was up.” Though the soldiers try to show respect to a dead comrade, often it’s little more than place a covering over the face of the corpse.
“Fury” lacks the bravura acting and writing of something like “Inglourious Basterds” or the historical underpinnings of “Saving Private Ryan.” In telling a story set in World War II, it’s really telling a story about every war, and why those who come back often don’t want to talk about the experience.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.