FURY. Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena. Directed by David Ayer. 134 minutes.Rated MA15+ (Strong war themes, violence, blood and gore and coarse language).
With its top notch talent behind and in front of the camera, ‘Fury’ delivers a big-budget WWII film both epic and intimate in scale. That said however, its brutal violence and portrayal of the futility of war will send its audiences home with a heavy heart.
We are introduced to the American crew of a Sherman tank operating deep in Germany in the final month of the European Theatre of war. Their charismatic leader is ‘Wardaddy’ (Brad Pitt), both paternal and stern, and they have just suffered their first casualty of the entire war, losing their assistant driver. Alongside ‘Wardaddy’ are the devout ‘Bible’ (Shia LaBeouf), crass ‘Coon-Ass’ (Jon Bernthal) and Hispanic ‘Gordo’ (Michael Pena). They are a family, and deal with the horrors of war through and with each other. Arriving at an American camp, they are given a recently enlisted soldier Norman (Logan Lerman) as their replacement crew member. Young and wholly inexperienced, Norman faces an impossible challenge in surviving the attacks of vastly superior German tanks and integrating himself into the crew.
When Norman fails to kill a hostile Hitlerjugend teenager and another tank crew perish as a result, it becomes clear that he has never experienced war nor killed an enemy soldier. His fellow crew members don’t trust him to keep them alive, and give him a hard time. He begins to prove himself after Wardaddy forces him to kill a captive SS soldier, and they successfully capture a German town. Writer-director David Ayer has crafted a horrific, raw look at the suffering engendered by war, and the suffering experienced by those soldiers dealing out the bloodshed. His script is well paced, with nicely levelled action beats spread throughout, leading towards the impressively mounted climactic battle. Though making an ‘original’ war movie is no mean feat given that the genre has been largely done to death, Ayer’s attempt is pretty close, especially given the premise of setting the large part of the film inside a tank.
With Norman finally accepted as a member of their family, the climax rolls around, and here be spoilers (though the finale was clearly outlined in most of the film’s marketing); the crew must hold a crossroad against a battalion of 300 advancing SS troops, so they lay a trap and battle commences.
Wardaddy waxes lyrical during the film, and says the ‘ideals are peaceful, history is violent’. If ‘Fury’ portrays it accurately, history is very violent indeed. There are several stomach churning displays of brutality in the film, and an overwhelming hollowness to the acts. I would argue that the film does not glorify violence as many modern actioners do, nor does it make it totally justified. It instead glorifies the familial bonds of war, set against the inhuman business of war and its sanctioned mass murder. One does not leave this film feeling fulfilled or satisfied that anonymous Nazi soldiers have righteously suffered, but instead defeated that such actions were mandated by war, and no amount of Shia LaBeouf quoting Isiah 6:8 can assuage this feeling of futility.
The cast is brilliant across the crew. They are all scarred men, mentally and physically, and they completely inhabit the grit and bloodshed of their characters. I would single out Jon Bernthal, who plays the ostensibly unlikable Coon-Ass as a broken man trying to cope in anyway possible, and also LaBeouf and Logan Lerman who shed their previously ‘family friendly’ acting work to descend into Ayer’s darkness.
Composer Steven Price delivers a score which should certainly feature heavily in awards season. Hauntingly traditional with a wonderful choir and beautiful strings, yet mechanical and edgy with its percussion-like artillery clangs, it is the perfect accompaniment to the film. Russian cinematographer Roman Vasyanov does a wonderful job capturing the palette of war-torn Europe in greys, browns and greens. His shot selection competently exhibits the action, and his layering of depth and smoke gives it an epic scale.
‘Fury’ is not an easy film to watch, though I have no doubt there will be some audiences who simply find it an enjoyable action romp. David Ayer’s film is both a throwback in its story and set pieces, and yet exceedingly contemporary in its approach. His cast and crew are game to execute his vision, and the result is a film which ought to be discussed heavily after viewing – see it with friends and let the furious debates begin.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out October 23.