When it comes down to it, there are two types of war movies. The first, is the one with some kind of grand statement to make. Whether it’s something of the ‘OOO RAH AMERICA’ variety, or directly to the contrary will obviously vary, but at the heart, there’s something more political going on beneath the surface of combat. Then, there are films that simply observe war for what it is, in both it’s most brutal, and stalled moments. From it’s first frame, Fury quickly establishes itself as one of the later.
The film fallows a squad of soldiers who operate a tank nicknamed ‘Fury’. Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) is clearly in charge, watching over the other men in the group with authority and wisdom. Those aforementioned other men are Boyd (Shia LaBeouf), a heavily religious man who sees his crew as blessed by god, Trini (Michael Pena), an enthusiastic and slightly odd man, and Grady (Jon Bernthal), who lives up to his codename ‘coon ass’ by being an unpredictable, wildcard hick of a man with a wild temper. In light of loosing one of their other teammates, they find themselves being joined by Norman (Logan Lerman), a timid typist thrown into combat, as they make their way through German territory in the final days of World War 2.
Right off the bat, Fury seems determined to prove just how unbelievably brutal war can be on both a visual, and phycological level. This isn’t just a typical ‘men on a mission’ film, but more an examination of if these men can go on said mission without hitting their breaking point, and if the bond they’ve formed over time is strong enough to hold their sanity together through one last fight. Nothing is painted in broad strokes either. These soldiers are for the most part, not very good people, and we see exactly how far down the moral rabbit hole they’ve fallen strictly though the circumstances they’ve had to endure, and how sickening that depravity is to someone who is a newcomer to it all.
The performances by the entire cast are absolutely top notch. Brad Pitt, playing a more subdued and intense variation on his character in Inglorious Basterds, once again proves why he’s one of the very best leading men in the business. His presence commands respect and authority, and we instantly believe that this group of pretty damn rowdy guys would accept him as an authority figure, and hold on to every word that comes from his mouth. Lerman is wonderful as Norman, who goes through such an insane mental ringer that it’s impossible not to sympathize with his transformation, as Lerman makes sure to never remove the humanity that we find empathy with in the first place. The real scene stealer though is LaBeouf. Completely evaporating any traces of his signature ticks and traits that we’ve all come to detest, he disappears completely into the skin of a man guided by religious morals, who perhaps has the deepest bonds to all of his fellow soldiers. He has a couple moments here that are just piercing to watch, and his performance as a whole certainly restores my faith in him as an actor. Pena and Bernthal have more broad characters to play, but they blend well with the ensemble, who all have wonderful dialogue and camaraderie thanks to sharp writing by David Ayer.
Speaking of Ayer, he nails it in the director’s chair here. Not only is the film aesthetically beautiful, but the action sequences are an absolute joy to watch. They’re easy to see, fast paced, and remarkably brutal. Seriously, this is not a film for the faint of heart. Heads explode, limbs are shot off, and it’s all shown in vivid detail. However, it’s never in a way that just feels like gore porn, it’s an honest and completely realistic portrayal of the horrors of war, with no stone left unturned. Particularly noteworthy is a tank on tank battle midway through the film, that manages to be completely hair raising despite the two vehicles only being able to fire every ten seconds or so.
It helps that we really care about the characters involved, with plenty of moments where the movie takes a beat to let us spend time with them. In fact, if the film has one weakness, it’s that eventually things do settle into a very predictable structure of ‘battle, break, battle, break’. This is broken up slightly by one extended sequence midway through involving two German girls in an apartment, but even that goes on for just a little too long. I think that if they had found a way to make this two hours on the dot, instead of two hours and fifteen minutes, it would have been just perfect.
This is a film that makes you completely buy into everything happening in it, and that is a hell of a complement for a war film. It never feels cheesy, or overwrought, but entirely genuine and tragically realistic. It’s a film that finds humanity even in it’s most brutal moments, never forgetting that even the people on the opposition are just that, human beings. This is one of the best war films in recent memory, uncompromising, well acted, and exciting, all solid ingredients for what is by far one of the strongest action tickets of the year.