Writer/director David Ayer’s ‘Fury’ may be a product of every great World War II film that has come before it, but its solid execution is more
than enough to make for a notable entry in the genre.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about ‘Fury’ is how well it works despite its strict adherence to almost every war movie cliché.
Ayer’s film succeeds because of an outstanding cast and several genuinely gripping sequences of character drama.
‘Fury’ takes place during the final days of the European Theatre as Allied forces within Nazi Germany close in on victory. But, in truth, the
historical context is mainly window dressing. This is, first and foremost, a story about warfare and its effect on human psyche.
Brad Pitt’s Don Collier commands a Sherman tank crew as they attempt to make a final push towards Berlin. Unfortunately, the actual plot
here really doesn’t serve any more purpose than giving our characters something to do, and to set up the inevitable last stand during the
film’s climax. Take one of the best films in the genre, Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. In that film, the mission is more than an
objective to tie together a series of otherwise unrelated sequences. It colored every character moment and masterfully debated the value
of humanity during a time of utter brutality.
‘Fury,’ on the other hand, frequently feels like a series of character vignettes punctuated by firefights and tank battles. Yet every individual
element is handled well enough to work well, and a few sequences stand out as genuinely masterful.
As the film begins, Collier’s crew has lost its assistant driver in battle. He is replaced with the painfully young Norman Ellison (Logan
Lerman), whose only military experience is as a typist. As one would expect, Ellison struggles to adapt to the change and Collier’s tightly
knit group is less than welcoming to their new crewmate. Their tank is their home, and is the namesake of the film. And in case you forget
that, Ayer repeatedly places the howitzer sporting the film’s title in the center of his shot compositions.
The crew is chock-full of war movie clichés. Collier is a the quietly solemn leader, Ellison is the naïve, fresh-faced young’un, Shia LaBeouf’s
Boyd Swan is the religious one and Jon Bernthal does what he does best as intimidating A-hole Grady Travis.
As much as I feel like I should hold that against the film, each actor is great in their role, and the dialog highlighting their brotherhood
effectively distinguishes the characters and draws us into their pseudo-family.
The most important relationship is between Ellison and Collier, with the Staff Sergeant walking the line between uncompromising leader
and surrogate father to the new face.
There is an intense moment where Ellison hesitates to shoot a Nazi soldier, resulting in a US Army casualty. Collier later orders Ellison to
execute a captured enemy. When Ellison refuses, Collier forces him to do so. It’s a brutal scene that highlights frustration and sadness
becoming violence and vengeance.
There’s also a memorable and haunting scene when Collier shows the young man a group of Nazis who committed a mass suicide rather
than be discovered by Allied forces.
But it’s a sequence that follows shortly afterward that is perhaps the best in the entire film.
Collier takes Ellison to meet a couple of German girls after liberating a town from the Nazis. It’s an endearing scene that provides a respite
from the ominous tones of the rest of the film. The women cook a meal, and Ellison and the young girl, Emma (Alicia von Rittberg), share an
attraction. It’s a great scene that has Collier trying to regain some of his humanity. He noticeably doesn’t invite the other members of his
crew. Despite his disappointment with Ellison as a soldier, Collier knows he is the only one who will appreciate the simple pleasure of a
Soon after, the rest of the crew finds them with the girls and (led by Bernthal doing his thing), wreck their meal. This leads to a genuinely
gripping scene around the dinner table where Collier sits in silence (Pitt wonderfully trying to suppress his rage) while the group behave
like animals and harass Emma.
In a film with some intense battle sequences, this mealtime standoff may be the most potent scene in 'Fury.'
That’s not a knock on the action sequences either. They are well-conceived, with Ayer doing an admirable job portraying the claustrophobic
nature of the tank combat, especially in the superb final battle against a squad of SS officers.
These sequences are greatly enhanced by superlative sound editing and mixing. The effects are thunderous and contain enough unique
touches to make it obvious we aren’t listening to the standard library of booms and bangs.
Steven Price’s score, however, feels exactly like the generic beats and thuds of an uninspired score. During the extended final shot of the
film, Price’s music loops several times in an embarrassing display of laziness. Price won an Oscar for his work on Gravity last year, but his
modern style doesn’t lend itself well to this film.
I also have to mention the film’s dull color palette, which ranges from gray to darker gray. Was everyday really lifeless and ominously
overcast back then? Is this Germany or Mordor?
Admittedly, however, most of my criticisms are relatively minor because 'Fury' does the most important things right. It delivers good
characters, performances and intense action.
For fans of war films, 'Fury' is easily recommended.
* * *
(out of four)
Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael
Peña, Jon Bernthal, Jim Parrack, Brad William Henke
Cinematography by: Roman Vasyanov
Music by: Steven Price
Released: October 17, 2014; 134 Minutes