Directed By: David Ayer
Written By: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal
After End of Watch and now Fury writer/director David Ayer has shown a knack for depicting the bond that forms between people when they face death on an endless basis. Fury falls in line with similar World War II films, like Saving Private Ryan, that do not shy away from the inhuman brutality of war. Fury will fully engage audiences with its intense battle sequences and solid performances, but what it lacks is a consistent thematic message. The weight it builds becomes cheapen as it enters into an over simplification of the glory of war.
When the film begins it appears as if Ayer is content on illustrating the futile nature of heroism in the environment of war. We first meet the crew Fury, the name given to their battered Sherman tank, as they are traversing the living graveyard of a battle lost. One that represents the treacherous ground these men have faced during their years in combat. Mud is seemingly everywhere and on everything. As if the earth itself is losing its foundation due to the weight this war has put upon it.
Taking place in April 1945 it covers the near conclusion of the Allies War with Germany. Brad Pitt stars as Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier a Sargent in a Sherman tank battalion that has seen the worst war has to offer. His crew which include, Jon Bernthal as an aggressive mechanic, Shia LaBeouf as a faith inspired gunner, and Michael Peña as the more lighthearted driver are dealing with recent loss of a crew member. With limited recruits a noncombat ready typist, played by Logan Lerman, is selected to replace their fallen comrade. With no combat experience and zero training he may be a hindrance the crew of Fury cannot afford.
Lerman works as this symbol of innocence that is tragically beaten down bit by bit. While not inventing storytelling, Ayer tirelessly builds an genuine comradery between this group. They are unquestionably brothers and as you would expect with brothers they tend did disagree–sometimes violently. Lerman becomes an unwelcomed guest to an already warn out party. He is the symbol of a morality they have long sense forgotten so in turn they attempt to take his decency out of him.
In a scene that see’s Brad Pitt try to forcefully make Lerman execute an unarmed prisoner we see how futile ethics have become. Ayer at first is not giving us a band of lionized soldiers, rather a group of men who have long lost what they once were. This does not come off as a condemnation of these men, more so a realization that war cannot be simplified to the point of good guys vs. bad guys. What these men went through was a lot more complicated than that. As rapidly as that is established Ayer begins to back track as Pitt become the straightforward archetype hero that we have come to expect. His past questionable actions are quickly forgotten.
Ayer is able to get some intense performances from his actors. Even the walking tabloid that is Shia LaBeouf shows he is a legit actor when given proper material. Jon Bernthal is a little more of a mixed bag. His abrasive attitude flirts with being cartoonish at times, but does get a moment to shine during an unexpected dinner party. It was one of the few moments where it took a breath and allowed things to slow down. Pitt and Lerman bring it altogether. The inconsistencies of his character aside Pitt has command of his character and actors around him. He is the glue that holds everything together.
Saving Private Ryan forever changed how war is represented in film, and Fury keeps up with that mantra. There’s no set piece to the scale of the invasion of the Normandy, because for the most part Ayer keeps things small scale. Still we see just how vicious life inside a confined tank can be. How a well-placed shell will swiftly transform a tank from a bastion of safety to an entrapped death machine. Ayer uses the space of the tank well as we see how each solider is a vital gear that makes this tank go. It is within these action sequences where Ayer makes the film his own.
It is that fact that makes the final act that more disappointing. Much of the believability that was built is nearly whipped clean with a climax that devolves to over the top entertainment. Alone and with an immobile tank the crew of Fury need to hold back over two hundred German soldiers. It is a sequence that is almost excessively entertaining, and feels like it has too much fun with all the death and destruction. All the complex questions it started asking are answered with abridged responses. Perhaps if this was based on true events Ayer would have an anchor to slow the momentum he was unable to control. There is no shame in idolizing veterans by any means. However, the best way is by presenting a story that feels authentic and truthful. For most of its runtime Fury accomplishes just that. It just could not finish what it started.