There are war movies, and then there are WAR movies. Brad Pitt’s “Fury” is the latter — a gritty, bleak portrayal of a tightly-knit American tank crew marching toward Berlin in the final days of World War II.Pitt plays tank commander Don Collier, who does his best to lead his crew against the Germans’ superior armament and artillery. Jon Bernthal (“The Walking Dead”) is Grady Travis, a redneck so out of control and uncouth that Collier has mostly given up trying to keep him in line. Travis is a great mechanic, and everything else is just less important.
Michael Peña (“End of Watch”) is the tank’s driver, Gordo Garcia, who has pretty much accepted that none of them will leave Germany alive. However, he is intent on taking as many Germans out as he can along the way.
Shia LaBeouf is the tank’s main gunner, a hyper-religious type who reads the bible and preaches morality to his fellow soldiers in between blowing Nazis to bits.
At the start of the film, all four are disturbed by the death of their tank-mate ‘Red’ who was just killed in action — alongside them in the tank — and they haven’t even had time to wash the blood and guts out of what is, essentially, their living room. Enter Logan Lerman (“Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief”) who is nothing more than a typist called into duty in the dark days of the war to replace Red as the tank’s bow gunner.Shia LaBeouf needed a role like this. Not as a film’s headlining star, but with solid screen time. Something with less pressure than trying to carry the film, and more ability to focus on actually acting. I’ve wondered at times about LaBeouf’s acting chops. Here, the 28-year-old “Transformers” star who walked away from the franchise that made him a mega-star in hopes of taking on more challenging acting roles, shows real promise in his best performance to-date.
Lerman has already worked to distance himself from the young adult novels that gave him his first starring role, and here the young actor shows both talent and range. Lerman’s character Norman is distraught over being sent to the front lines. He’s been trained as a typist and has, apparently, never killed so much as a fly. The others in the tank, however, have no such qualms. They’re perfectly aware that a tank’s bow gunner can’t stop to think about morality. As portrayed in one of the film’s scenes, a moment’s hesitation over pulling the trigger can cost American lives.
Knowing all of this, Collier forces Norman into a difficult — and morally sickening — scenario that, while necessary in the space of the world in which those soldiers live, is difficult to fathom by today’s standards. It’s just one of the moral ambiguities that “Fury” so readily portrays. Despite his readiness to kill the enemy, or anyone who might possibly be the enemy, “Fury” also shows a wide gulf between Collier’s sense of morality and decency and that of other soldiers around him.
One of the things I liked most about “Fury” is that it made no grand statements about the politics of WWII. Unlike so many films on that war, there were radio broadcasts of Roosevelt or Churchill, no cut scenes switching over to Hitler giving a speech to tens of thousands of armed troops gathered at the Reichsparteitag. Instead, “Fury” is about the small, mostly self-contained world of this tank crew. Their knowledge of the war is limited to what they can see, what they hear, what rumors they hear from fellow soldiers, and what orders they receive from their superiors. And they’re smart enough to know that much of what they hear on the radio and even in messages from high command is propaganda designed to motivate them to keep move ahead, to keep soldiering on.Writer-director David Ayer (“Training Day”) does a masterful job of delivering a film with a laser-like focus on the view of the war from the perspective of one single tank crew. Their world is a dangerous one. They lives most of their lives cramped into a space smaller than the average master bathroom today. They move forward with bullets pinging off the shell of this ‘home’ of theirs, and with the knowledge that there is no safety — either in moving forward or standing still. All they can do is follow orders, move forward, and face whatever dangers lurk ahead. They have no idea that, as we now know, the fall of Berlin was right around the corner. For all the members of this tank crew knew, years of fighting could still be ahead of them.
They also knew that the chances of leaving those German battlefields alive to return home was a slim prospect, and even if they did defy the odds to return home, their lives would be forever altered — and molded — by their experiences in the war.
That’s the central theme to “Fury” — war is an entirely separate place, where the rules we have come to live our lives by just don’t apply. Killing is rampant. Atrocities are committed every day. Blood and gore are everywhere to be seen. It’s a disturbing film on many levels, but one that shows the kind of raw brutality that humans are capable of. It’s a stark reminder that war is, in fact, hell.