Fury, the new release from director David Ayer (End of Watch), is a film from another era. It’s an old-fashioned war movie although with 21st century levels of violence and profanity. Fury has been summarily dismissed by some segments of the media as “macho crap”. Evidently those particular critics have never seen a war film before and aren’t big fans of John Wayne, Gary Cooper, William Holden, Burt Lancaster, Robert Mitchum, Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen or …. You get the idea.
In 2014, the top dog soldier is played by Brad Pitt. He’s the seasoned leader of a five-man tank crew that has fought its way across Africa, France, Belgium and now, Germany. Only four of the men have forged that bloody path together. They now find themselves saddled with a novice gunner, an 18-year-old typist who has been pressed into service on the front lines. His first mission is to mop up the remains of his predecessor who was killed in action. As the tank crew chases the Nazis from town to town in April 1945, the goal is simple: Don’t die during the final weeks of a war that has essentially been won. But the enemy is dug in and fighting for its homeland. The remaining miles to Berlin will prove to be the hard fought final laps of a marathon military campaign.
The battle sequences have a pulse-pounding “you are there” quality to them. Ayers does not attempt to compete with the large-scale invasion so masterfully executed by Steven Spielberg in Saving Private Ryan. Fury unfolds amid the small squads and platoons that have been decimated by months of close quarters combat. He finds the suspense and tension in skirmishes between dozens of men and a handful of armored tanks. In Fury, the results of combat don’t rely on the sheer numbers of troops involved, but rather the skill of the men doing the fighting.
For a film that focuses on the muck and the mire of a war of attrition, one of the standout moments in the film is a quiet scene between Pitt and his young gunner and a pair of German women who are terrified of their American “liberators”. The two soldiers dine in their home and attempt to find a couple of hours of peace before leaving for their next mission. It’s a moving moment of humanity captured convincingly by Ayer’s script and direction.
The performances are uniformly solid. Pitt is in earnest leading man mode and effortlessly makes the audience believe that he is a battle-tested soldier. The MVP of the ensemble cast is Shia LaBeouf. He disappears into his character, a man of faith who wonders if God will forgive him for spending his days killing his fellow man. The young actor may be plagued by his off-screen exploits and tabloid coverage, but this performance shows that there’s a talented actor hidden in all of that controversy. And Logan Lerman is convincing as the young gunner. He serves as the audience’s entry point into the world of tank crews and armored combat, and we feel his nervousness and bewilderment.
Not every film has to be profound, but Fury is more than just a war movie. It’s rich with characters and a humanity not found in simpler action films. And that’s enough to make it a memorable trip to the theater.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.