Fury is the latest from writer/director David Ayer, creator of the acclaimed End Of Watch and frowned on Sabotage. The film is about a tank crew at the end of the Second World War led by a dashing Brad Pitt doing his best impression of himself as Lt. Aldo Raine, while Logan Lerman does his best not to be out acted by Shia Laboeuf. Truth be told, this film is not as cut and dry as its screenplay would have you believe but, it still fails to pave over the chasms that make up the scenes between each battle scene.
Brad Pitt, Shia Laboeuf, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal star as the veteran tank crew members; Collier, Boyd, Garcia and Travis respectively. Joining them is Logan Lerman as Pvt. Norman in a typical fish out of water scenario, “He’s a typist, he shouldn’t be in a tank, but we’re short on men!” cliché kind of way. For the most part they all make it work. None of the acting will really endear you to them or knock your socks off but they make enough of it that they come across as though they’d truly served together. It’s a natural kind of chemistry. The problem though rests in two places, firstly we’ve seen all this before and while it’s done well, it is not memorable and will make you think of other, similar characters and roles. Brad Pitt suffers the worst from this as his character is the same one from Inglorious Basterds, transposed into a tank. Sure it’s a good character, but let’s try something new. The second problem is vastly more of an issue. Fury, the tank, has no personality, no character. Serenity, the Falcon, Enterprise the Memphis Belle and so on, all these vessels had a personality. They endeared themselves to the viewer, they are characters in their own right, with or without a crew. In this film, Fury is nothing more than a lumbering death machine, it feels like a dime a dozen straight off the line with none of the history that its crew shares. It’s like hiring Keanu Reeves to star in a drama about the holocaust.
That said, the characters and scenes themselves look alarmingly authentic. The world that this film occupies shares more in common with the grit and grime of Peckinpah and its foreign contemporaries than it does with modern Hollywood films. Fury does not shy away from brandishing the horrors of war. Both the protagonists and the antagonists do barbaric things all throughout the film and all innocence is lost within days from even the most righteous of characters. The look of the film helps to realize the ugliness and hate that has seeped into these people’s lives. In one scene in particular, Pitt and Lerman’s characters enter a well-kept apartment with two young women inside. It is a calm and quiet scene until the ugliness of their world and deeds catches up to them in the form of their crewmates, spoiling any beauty the scene once held. This kind of cynicism is refreshing in a world where Hollywood thinks that all films must have clear cut good and evil.
Sadly though, the script does not fare so well for much of the film. When I had read a draft of the screenplay, the one thing that kept nagging away at me was the massive divide between the battle scenes and the expository ones. The action was tense and pulse pounding, the exposition was dull and floundering. Luckily the finished product had wonderful battle scenes and the exposition was not as bad as I had expected. Still though, the issue remained. Anytime the tank stopped for character development, the film stalled. Momentum was lost to humdrum moments that anyone who has seen a war film before has already seen. What’s worse is that they come in stark contrasted to the exquisitely scripted and filmed battles.
Speaking of said battles, they are a great reason to see this film in theatres. The sound and visual splendor over takes you each time you hear a tank shell whistle by or smash through metal and flesh. The sound of the gears squealing and turning as the drivers scramble to beat their foe to the punch is heart-pounding. The sound alone makes this film tense enough, but then they put the cameras into the tank. The shots are cramped and looked greasy and lived in. You can feel the terror as the sound of shells, bullets and grenades bounce of the full. When you see a tank explode or get set a flame, it is thanks to these sights and sounds that you will feel mortified and saddened. Through this, Ayer forces empathy upon the viewer.
Overall, Fury is a pretty good film, but mostly due to its attention to technical detail and depiction of war as not something glorious, but rather a soul corrupting force. The performances are solid, but are hampered by a sense of, been there done that, draped over the film by the script. If you are a war buff or action fan, this will be right up your alley. If you are looking for something deeper, with more characterization, you may wish to look elsewhere.