It's April 1945 and World War II is all but over in Germany but the fighting rages on as the German army makes its last stand. In the 66th Armored Regiment, a Sherman tank command by Sgt. Don 'Wardaddy' Collier (Brad Pitt) returns to base having been the lone survivor from the entire outfit of tanks sent into battle. One of his five-man crew was killed in the battle, leaving the tank -- named 'Fury' -- short a man. Wardaddy is about to get his replacement, but it isn't what he was expecting. Joining the tank crew is Private Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), eight weeks into his army life, a tour he was trained to work as an office clerk. He's got no combat experience and has never been inside a tank. Wardaddy works with what he has though, Fury gearing up with supplies, fuel and ammunition. The dying gasps of war await up the road as the Allies must take the next crossroads and next town all the way until Berlin.
Wow, what a flick. Director David Ayer -- of Training Day, End of Watch fame among others -- spent several years developing this film, and let's say this. He did his homework. This is a gritty, gruesome, truly uncomfortable film to watch not because it exaggerates anything, but because it lays it all out there and simply tells the truth. This is war in all its horrors. It isn't heroic or full of glory. War is about survival, about sticking by your buddies, about getting by and not letting the war claim you. It is a dreary, muddy movie featuring a solid musical score (underused, never overbearing) from composer Steven Price (listen to the soundtrack HERE). Call it the Private Ryan effect, but war movies can't get away anymore with being glossy or clean or easy. The bar was set ridiculously high with Steven Spielberg's film, and Ayer's Fury does a hell of a job trying to climb up to that level.
When I saw first saw the trailer for 'Fury,' my curiosity/worry was that Brad Pitt was channeling his excellent but over-the-top performance from Inglourious Basterds. He isn't. This is an equally intense but not so hammy performance, Pitt bringing Wardaddy to life. It's an archetypal character, one you've seen before in war movies and will likely see again. Sergeant Collier has promised his crew he'll get them through combat untouched, and since they've joined the fighting in Africa (about 2.5 years earlier), he's been able to keep that promise. Well, until now, as a crew member was killed in combat, and they're all starting to question their mortality. Like the rest of the Fury crew, Sgt. Collier isn't necessarily a likable character. He makes decisions that men only have to make in war and combat. Excruciating decisions, ones that tear a man apart. So not likable? Maybe not, but eternally fascinating and interesting to watch.
I think Ayer -- who wrote the script in addition to directing -- had two goals in making this film. One is in the Band of Brothers vein, showing the bond that men in combat situations develop. Life and death certainly brings men closer. Again, it's some archetypal, familiar characters, but they WORK. In addition to Lerman's Norman, a newbie to everything war-related, the Fury crew includes Boyd 'Bible' Swan (Shia LaBeouf), the gunner, Trini 'Gordo' Garcia (Michael Pena), the driver, and Grady 'Coon-Ass' Travis (Jon Bernthal), the ammo loader, a drawling Southerner. These are different men from different backgrounds, but they've been to hell and back in combat. Their outlook on life and war is altered to the point it's warped. They've been fighting across Africa and France and Belgium and Germany for years. The end is in sight as the war comes to a close. All they want to do is get through it alive.
So on that level, Ayer nails Goal No. 1. The attempt never comes across as heavy-handed in showing us how close these men are. That's not to say they're perfect friends. They argue constantly, they rip each other to places, and would seem to have nothing in common. When the line is drawn in the sand though, they're there for each other. Some scenes especially crackle, especially Gordo explaining the Fury's involvement in the fighting after D-Day. LaBeouf nails the scene, a single tear rolling down his face. As they roll across the countryside up top or preparing for battle in the tight, claustrophobic confines of their Sherman tank, the movie reeks of authenticity. This is the bond that develops among men in combat. This is how awful life as a tank crew was. This is war at its dirtiest, grittiest and bloodiest. Also look for Jason Isaacs as an infantry captain working in conjunction with the Fury.
Now Goal No. 2; what tank combat was really like. Killing an infantry soldier is horrific itself, but weapons and technology were developed to tear through the thick armor of a tank. Imagine then what those weapons do to the men inside those tanks. Ayer did his research, no doubt about it. Watch 'Fury' and you truly get a sense of what fighting inside a tank was like. A horrific, gruesome fight between four Sherman tanks and one Tiger tank illustrates the strategy, the weaknesses in both sides' armor, and the frenetic chaos of battle. The violence is on the level of Saving Private Ryan so be forewarned if you're squeamish (and I typically am). Ayer doesn't dwell on the violence so it comes across in lightning-quick flashes, but it is rough. Limbs are ripped off, heads explode and countless soldiers -- both Germans and Americans -- are killed. This isn't a movie for the weak of heart. What 'Private Ryan' did for infantry violence and combat, 'Fury' does the same for tank and armored combat.
It all builds to an incredibly moving, graphically violent, chaotic extended firefight as the Fury crew goes toe to toe with an SS battalion in transit. One of the most perfect battle/firefight scenes I've ever seen in a movie, an insanely choreographed sequence in the German countryside as darkness approaches. The final shot of the movie truly shows the carnage of battle, a perfect ending to illustrate what we've just seen. It isn't a perfect movie, but for what it sets out to do, I loved it. The bond among fighting men, a great cast, incredible combat sequences, and a sense of how awful the closing months of the war in Germany really was.
Can't recommend this one enough. One of the best war movies around.
Fury (2014): ****/****