PLOT: In April of 1945, the last month of World War II in Europe, a Sherman tank and its five-man crew pushes deep into Germany to eradicate all remaining Nazis. The story is told from the point-of-view of the crew's newest member, a young man for whom the war has been an abstract notion until now.
REVIEW: The fact that war is hell shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone at this point, although Hollywood has always tried to find fresh ways to remind us. David Ayer's new film, FURY, doesn't exactly find an angle that hasn't been explored before, but it does give bring blistering ferocity to a familiar scenario, as well as shines a light on a relatively unexplored aspect of that "great" war, WWII. The film is bloody, brutal and intense; if you've ever wanted to feel embedded with the Army but didn't actually want to go through with it, FURY may be the movie for you to sit down with.
Brad Pitt stars as "Wardaddy," a hard man leading a hard crew of soldiers deep into the heart of Germany at the tail end of the war. They ride on "Fury," a Sherman tank that's every bit as battle-weary as they are. Their mission is to clean up the country's remaining Nazis, especially the SS, the Third Reich's most powerful military organization that is sworn not to surrender without a fight. The men of Fury are tired, irritable and angry; the war is practically over, but here they are, still doing their duty and risking their lives.
Wardaddy's crew is like a family that can't stand one another, yet can't imagine being apart. They're made up of "war movie" cliches, for the most part: "Bible" (Shia Labeouf) is a contemplative Christian man; Gordo (Michael Pena) is a Mexican with a penchant for drinking and driving (the tank!); "Coon-Ass" (Jon Bernthal) is an ignorant redneck who looks very at home in the muck. When we join them, they've just lost a comrade in battle, so they're saddled with the prototypical "new kid," Norman (Logan Lerman), a fresh-faced boy who has hardly even fired a gun before. Norman is as out of place with these hard-asses as one can be, but their latest assignment - which will take them further into enemy lines than they've been before - will quickly get him accustomed to the hellish war and his crude makeshift family.
Ayer doesn't get very fancy with the narrative here; unlike SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (which this movie certainly invites comparison to, stylistically), there's no distinct mission that builds suspense as we move toward our goal. FURY is more interested in hunkering down with these grimy men as they just trudge along, going here and there with nary a break or time to breath. We watch as they're bad to each other, and to everyone they meet. We watch them get drunk; we watch them revisit the past, where the various terrible things they've done are always waiting for them. FURY creates a tangible atmosphere of the grueling dread of war, as well as the monotony of it.
And when the hellfire comes calling to break up the monotony, FURY makes it hit home. As with Spielberg's profoundly disturbing images of battle, FURY is unrelentingly horrific in its depiction of the violence inflicted upon one's body when it's caught in the crossfire. Heads are ripped off their bodies, limbs are detached, tank tracks roll over battered corpses. And though it's difficult to endure, Ayer and his technical team have rendered these massacres as realistically as can be expected. It wouldn't be accurate to call these sequences "exciting," but they're so intensely staged that our eyes can't help but be glued on the screen, taking in every gnarled bit of the carnage.
The characters and their relationships with one another are, more or less, ripped out of a hundred other war movies. Save for some of the profanity (of which there is a lot), Ayer's script could have been written in the 1950s. Most of the men are one-note creations, and the trial by fire young Norman will have to endure in order to go from boy to man is predictable. But Ayer doesn't want to reinvent the wheel; he's beholden to those classic war movies when American men were real men, heroes to their dying breaths, and their bloodlust for destroying the enemy was nothing short of noble. We see how the war has broken them down, but dammit if they also don't love it; the thrill of their beloved tank blowing another tank to smithereens is just too good of a high to deny. Ayer has is utilizing war movie stereotypes knowingly but not subversively; there are no wild cards here, it's necessary that we know who these guys are right off the bat and we won't dig much deeper.
The acting is all very fine; unshowy but natural and convincing. Pitt as always commands the screen as a man of few words with bitterness stitched across his face. LaBeouf perhaps surprises the most, with several haunting, emotional moments; he once again proves that he's a good actor deserving of attention. Lerman, Pena and Bernthal are all solid, engaging screen presences, making the most of their thin characters.
Ayer's crew is top-notch; the look of the film is expertly realized by Roman Vasynov, while the sound designers have done a bang-up job with the litany of explosions that occur throughout the film. Steven Price's score adds an eerie layer to the endeavor.
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