It’s official: World War Two is back in vogue, at least as far as Hollywood is concerned. This year sees the release of three high-profile films set against the backdrop of the bloodiest conflict waged in human history. Ahead of the release of codebreaking drama The Imitation Game and the prisoner-of-war epic Unbroken comes Fury, a decidedly old-fashioned war film that follows an armored division of the United States Army in the dying days of the war.
Brad Pitt stars as Sgt. Don Collier, a weary seargant afforded the moniker Wardaddy, on account of his being responsible for four fellow soldiers in his tank. The squad have remained intact through battles in North Africa, Italy and Normandy, and Wardaddy’s main objective is to keep it that way. It’s a motley crew comprised of a bible-thumping Christian, a Mexican-American and a Southern redneck, but they possess the type of bond that can only be forged in a wartime situation, as well as the requisite nicknames. After losing their assistant driver during battle, a new member comes on the scene. Babyfaced Norman, played by Logan Lerman, is a typist with next-to-no experience on the frontline and little desire to gain any. Where his hardened colleagues spit and smoke cigarettes, Norman is of a far more sensitive disposition and liable to read the classics or demonstrate his prowess on the piano. That sensitivity is soon kicked out of him, however, as he is relentlessly mocked by his peers and given a first-person insight into just how unpretty war is.
As the film notes, the Germans had far superior tanks in their arsenal and a mobilised population at their disposal, thus leaving the Allied Forces at a distinct disadvantage. The film portrays Wardaddy & Co. embarking on a mission to hold a crossing that goes horribly awry after they are outgunned and outmanoeuvred by the German opposition. In terms of depicting violence, David Ayer doesn’t hold back. Unlike recent films of its ilk, the violence isn’t cartoonish or even particularly excessive. Instead, it possesses a gritty realism that serves to hammer the horrors of war home to the viewer. (One scene in which Norman has to overcome his distaste for violence to shoot a German soldier square in the head.) Lensed beautifully by Russian cinematographer Roman Vasyanov, the battle scenes are raw and visceral, while the interactions within the tank are framed with startling intimacy. There are moments in Fury that make the viewer sit up and pay attention – a particularly tense meal during which resentments are unearthed and insults are hurled springs to mind. There are other moments, however, where the film descends into unabashed jingoism, with characters calling for “Krauts” to be killed and an “America, fuck yeah!” sentiment can be felt simmering throughout.
As the paternalistic Wardaddy, Brad Pitt is playing an extension of his character from Inglourious Basterds, this time without the extreme bloodthirst or quippy lines. That’s not a bad thing per se as his presence anchors the film somewhat. It’s just nothing we haven’t seen before. Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal all excel in their respective roles, with LaBeouf in particular possessing a soulfulness we haven’t seen from him in a while. If anything, it’s a shame that we don’t see more from these characters and that they are relegated to sideline roles. Their characters are left somewhat underdeveloped and we never truly feel like we know them, which makes the finale less affecting.
Instead, Lerman is left to shoulder a lot of the film. As young, innocent Norman, who undergoes a transformation as he encounters the horrors of war, Lerman works well in the role. Unfortunately his character’s story arc moves far too swiftly to ring as even remotely true – one minute he’s crying at the prospect of having to kill a man, the next he’s given the nickname “Machine” and unmoved by what’s going on around him. Similarly, there are a few moments in Ayer’s script that feel cheap and manufactured, and minimise the overall plausability. Pitt’s character makes statements like, “Ideals are peaceful, history is violent,” that just come off like hammy, inspirational tweets. For a film so preoccupied with authenticity in certain respects, that’s a shame.