Within minutes of meeting new recruit Norman Ellison (played by Logan Lerman in a game changing role) “Wardaddy” Don (Brad Pitt) orders him to grab a bucket of hot water and clean out the remains of the side gunner who he’s now replacing. Norman enters the tank where he will spend the rest of the war unless he’s killed before it ends, and as he’s wiping away blood, he sees a piece of the former side gunner’s face splashed against it. It’s a disgusting and frightening shot that mirrors “what a man can do to another man,” or so he’s warned by “Bible” Boyd (Shia LaBeouf). For the next 24 hours, Norman will see men burned alive, civilians needlessly executed, and men ripped apart by bullets, all culminating in a harrowing fight for survival against an SS brigade. This is what encompasses David Ayer’s Fury, a film that is as ambitious as it is breathtaking.
The setting is April, 1945. The Allies have invaded the heart of Germany. It’s only a matter of time before victory belongs to the Allies but they still have to fight until the Germans officially surrender. We follow the crew of a Sherman tank named Fury encompassing of Wardaddy, Bible, Gordo (Michael Pena), and Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal). These men aren’t on a mission to save any particular Private, or capture any significant General. They are simply sent from point to point to secure the last remaining outposts while killing as many “Krauts” as they can. The film follows them over the course of one day.
Fury just may be this generation’s Platoon. It doesn’t talk about politics or government. It’s solely focused on this small crew and the horrors they have to face while waiting for the war to be over. As Wardaddy tells Norman when facing an unarmed German captive, “You’re here to kill him. He’s here to kill you.” If the film is about anything, it’s about how in this kind of environment, you have to become someone you’re not, and that someone is a monster. The characters in this movie are viciously cruel to their enemies, and you can see the toll it takes on them in small moments where they try go off to be alone for a brief moment before turning back into these stone cold killers. While you’re able to empathize with them, you have to adopt the movie’s perception that in this time of war, there is no morality; you either kill or you will be killed. In a scene where Norman shoots two German soldiers on fire, he is told, “you should have let them burn,” not so that the Germans would suffer more, but so that they could conserve their bullets.
It may at first seem odd that this film is written and directed by David Ayer. Up to this point, Ayer has only made films about crooked cops and drug cartels. But if you look closer at this film in the context of Ayer’s work, which ranges from Training Day to End of Watch, you’ll notice it fits well with the rest. There is a consistent depiction of people who are drastically changed by their work in all of his films. Moral ground is constantly in question when the ends have to be justified. It’s no coincidence that the soldiers in Fury refer to what they do as a job.
This is an incredibly intense movie. The shots are fluid, still, and expertly framed, thankfully without any hand held shaky nonsense. The action is realistic. There is a real comradery between the characters built upon with dynamic relationships, despite the way that they act towards other people outside of their unit. My favourite part of the entire movie is a dinner table scene where the pace completely slows down and uses the time for the audience to get to know these soldiers as individuals before they have to move on. Each actor gives a career defining performance, particularly Shia LaBeouf who has been able to completely shake off his Transformers character and his tabloid filled personal life. The final shot of this scene is haunting and perfectly fitting.
It’s tough to find any real fault to this movie because it’s so skilled at what it’s doing. There is a lot that’s being conveyed in the dialogue scenes about the characters and their personal beliefs. Decisions that are made by this small unit of five can be analyzed in conjunction with their circumstances. And while the violence is extremely graphic, it’s portrayed with a poetic lyricism that mourns for the victims. No person or nation is glorified in this film. It’s strictly about the characters in the moment, and the hell they have had to endure together for many years.
DIRECTOR: David Ayer / WRITER: David Ayer / STARRING: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal / YEAR: 2014 / GENRE: War / COUNTRY: USA / RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes