Fury is part action-adventure movie with tanks, and part anti-war movie that depicts the horrors of World War II. The first thing you’ll notice about this movie is that it is very quiet. There is no booming soundtrack to buoy us into an emotional high as we watch bullets flying across the screen. Instead, we hear the heavy clank of artillery being loaded into guns, the tinkle of a soldier pissing into a can with four other guys around him, and the squelch of the tank’s treads grinding a nameless, already pulp-ified corpse into the mud. We see terror twist men’s faces and sweat bead down their brows. It’s not a pretty movie.
It is 1945, and the Allied forces are making a final push into Nazi Germany. We the audience live the story through the dewy eyes of Army typist Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who is unwillingly assigned to replace a recently deceased assistant driver of a Sherman tank. The tank’s crew, led by battle-hardened Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt, sporting a few extra scars and a slick ‘do; Inglourious Basterd without the laughs), aren’t at all impressed by their quivering recruit.
The plot structure is straightforward and action builds predictably. Collier quickly assumes the tough-mentor role. Norman’s nerves and moral quandaries make him the weak link in the team; so Collier must erase both. Norman must learn to hate the enemy, to kill before he is killed, and in doing so, fulfils his purpose as a soldier and eventually earns his army nickname.
The movie is named Fury, after the tank, and I thought the choice of title brilliantly apt. Fury the tank is indeed a sixth member of the crew, and has a wonderful, earthy, dirty presence. You really get a feel for the interior: grimy, cramped, bloodstained despite scrubbing, plastered with photos of families-back-home and skimpily-dressed women. The tank warfare is also thrilling to watch, and will have you on the edge of your seat as the soldiers manoeuvre the vehicle and fumble with ammunition through a haze of panic. The individual combat sequences are well-choreographed and satisfying.
The standout scene, however, takes place not inside the tank but in the apartment of two German women that they encounter after the Allies have taken a small town. Collier seems only to want to play pretend, to recreate a pseudo-domestic meal, to enjoy the gentleness of a home despite the undercurrent of intimidation. It is in this scene that we really get to explore the moral ambiguity of the crew members. Arguably, none of them are good men.
Although Pitt’s character fills the shoes of respected leader, hero and mentor, I am not sure he is a genuine hero. What he possesses is the charisma to inspire devotion in others, and an ability to push another’s mindset and behaviour to fall in line with his plans. But Collier is stubborn, single-minded and ultimately doesn’t keep his promises.
The other three members of the crew (Boyd “Bible” Swan—Shia LaBeouf, Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis—Jon Bernthal, Trini “Gordo” Garcia—Michael Pena) give great performances. Shia LaBeouf’s moustached, Bible-verse-spouting character is particularly enjoyable, and Gordo provides some sparse comic relief.
Fury isn’t pushing a complex message. It simply seeks to depict the grievances of war: how war changes men, and the futility of men following orders from other men with more power. The tragedy of ordinary men killing ordinary men. The tragedy of ordinary men learning to do hellish things. Pointless death, powerlessness of women, mundanity, cold, fear and homesickness.
Ultimately, the action climaxes in a fairly predictable but still enjoyable final act. The movie’s weakness is that it can’t decide whether to be a glorified action spectacular or a grim depiction of human brutality. Not a must-see for me, though it is somewhat redeemed by its well-portrayed characters.