I feel that ever since “Saving Private Ryan” hit screens all across America back in 1998, the war genre continuously tries to emulate it’s graphic and realistic depictions on the horrors of war. The genre was no longer about a big named actor screaming “charge” and running into battle with gung ho and no fear it their eyes like John Wayne did in “The Longest Day” (although there exceptions to every rule). Last year’s “Lone Survivor” is one of the recent war pictures to follow in those footsteps and showed a brutal depiction of war (even if it’s patriotism was a bit too high in that film), and now David Ayer’s “Fury” joins that company. “Fury” is a subtly raw picture with graphic imagery, sharp character focus, terrific performances and a sense of horror; “Fury’s” only fault lies in its structure towards the end which leaves it not quite hitting greatness but it’s pretty damn close.
“Fury” takes place towards the end of WWII and follows a tank crew fighting deep within German territory. Losing their front gunner, they pick up a young man to enlist in their crew with little to no experience. Together they continue to press on in Germany, where the young man learns what it means to be in war as they come under fire from overwhelming forces.
The first thing that becomes clear in “Fury” is the lack of narrative. The story “Saving Private Ryan” was a group of soldiers trying to find one solider during the Normandy invasion. “Lone Survivor” was about a group of Navy Seals in a mission gone wrong having to fend off wave after wave of enemies. “Fury”? It’s really just about a couple days in the life of this tank crew (until the end of the movie which is where the structural problems come in). Lack of narrative can hurt a film, but here writer/director David Ayer avoids an objective for the characters and instead uses the events that transpire over the course of these few days to show what war can do someone’s humanity and explore the characters of this tank.
The two main characters are played by Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman. Logan plays Norman Ellison, the young soldier that the tank crew picked up as a replacement for a man they just lost. Barely ever firing a gun in his life and holding high on his moral ground, all his ethics are challenged by war and Brad Pitt’s character Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier. Collier, hardened by the war, challenges Norman to do the things he doesn’t want to do and won’t show any mercy towards his enemies. Norman is someone most of the audience can place themselves in since many of us have never been to war, while for Collier it’s all too real and his character teaches us the horrors of war.
There have been a lot of great performances this year and with that comes a lot of competition. Had the best actor category not been so crowded this year Brad Pitt might be in the discussions for best actor. This is among Pitt’s best performances in his career. He shreds his pretty boy image for something much more down and dirty. He is tough and has the appearance of a confident but broken leader. Logan Leman’s performance is a culmination of years of progression and work. Lerman always had the talent, but here shows the growth into what could a career full of great performances. All the characters of this tank unit are fleshed out and have their own time to shine, but the primary focus is on the relationship between these two characters.
The rest of the cast is headlined by heavyweight actors Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal. Michael Pena continues to be one of the best overlooked actors in the business today, while Shia LaBeouf continues to silence doubters in an outstanding performance. It’s a shame that his off screen antics overshadow his acting talent. I’m very glad to see Jon Bernthal continuing to get work outside of his major role in “The Walking Dead”. After playing a sleaze ball in “Wolf of Wall Street”, he returns to a role closer to Shane from “The Walking Dead” yet still different enough to distinguish him.
The trouble “Fury” runs is in the third act. While the entire film has just followed these tank crews through Germany without much objective or purpose (which worked for the film), the final act devolves into a standard outmatched, the few versus the many gun battle. Although it’s pivotal, the shift happens very suddenly and doesn’t work, it takes a while to get use to the shift. Once you do adjust to it, Ayer continues to impress, but until then the structure does crumble a little bit.
Many American war films can fall into the trap of becoming too patriotic. It becomes about duty, American flags waving, and glory. As much as I loved it, upon some re-watches of “lone Survivor” it does become a tad bit distracting. “Fury” is the antithesis of that. Instead of glamorizing war and serving your country, Ayer seems to have crafted a more anti-war film that explores the horrors of war, of what it does to the people involved. The movie leaves us with a haunting line of dialogue that you won’t soon forget or be able to shake off. I wish the third act didn’t fall the way it did because it did hurt the film a bit but for that flaw the rest of the film more than makes up for it. “Fury” is as good as last year’s “Lone Survivor” and in many ways could be considered better. Either way “Fury” will join the ranks of great war films.