Fast & ‘Fury’-ious Tank War

When you put the words “World War II” and “David Ayer” in the same sentence, it’s hard to imagine the two of them commingling. Ayer, a writer-director known almost entirely for making gritty crime dramas, never seemed likely to expand his subject matter outside the mean streets of Los Angeles. Also, having recently made “Sabotage,” one of the worst films I’ve seen this year so far, I was wary of how his next feature would turn out.

This is why “Fury” came as a huge surprise for Ayer’s next directorial effort because it finally exposed his ambition to stretch past the one-genre filmmaker he’s become. Ultimately, Ayer’s gamble pays off, with “Fury” standing as one of the better war films to come out as of late.

Set during the final month of WWII combat in Europe, the Allied forces have begun their violent path towards defeating Nazi Germany. Battling in the Army’s Second Armored Division is Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), commander of an M4 Sherman tank nicknamed “Fury.”

He along with his long-time crew (Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal) lose their long-time assistant driver, and thus must deal with the inexperienced Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) as replacement. As they trek further towards the heart of enemy territory, the stakes of life and death are raised.

At its best, “Fury” excels in delivering some of the best war combat sequences in recent memory. Every battle is coupled with brutal violence and relentless tension, essentially portraying the harshest realities of war with gritty precision.

A scene where two tanks go toe-to-toe trying to take out the other is where the aforementioned aspects stand out most. However, that doesn’t completely overshadow the extended climax, where the tank’s crew takes on a massive hoard of Nazis cornering them on all sides.

Leading the “Fury” crew, Brad Pitt delivers yet another solid performance as Wardaddy. Even with a character that remains relatively stoic throughout, Pitt’s on-screen gravitas elevates the role past its initially stock notions.

His co-stars playing the tank’s crew members also hold up well alongside him, most notably a surprisingly compelling Shia LaBeouf. Say what you want to say about his off-screen life, but he shows he’s still capable of conveying fine performances under the guide of a good director like Ayer.

With graphic material that bears some similarities to his mean-streets crime films, Ayer faces little difficulty in transferring his gritty style to the WWII battlegrounds. His presentation of the German landscape is littered with grime and cloudy skies, which aptly correlates with the bleak outlook of the characters’ chances of survival on the battlefield.

Also, his approach to capturing the battle sequences by either locking down or panning the camera was suitably fresh and the film owes a big thanks to Roman Vasyanov’s lavish cinematography.

As much as Ayer has blossomed as a director, his writing still needs some work. His knack for engaging character banter is usually on point, but his creation of characters that stretch past trope is still lacking. The sense of brotherhood between the crew is mentioned a lot, but the background of their lives back home is rarely explored.

Additionally, Ayer’s writing is especially awkward in an overlong scene in which Wardaddy and Norman find a village apartment where two German women are hiding. The motives behind certain actions the two carry out with the women felt unjust, and  seemed validated as if what they were doing was moral. If this scene were edited out, the film’s overall pacing and tone would’ve played out in a more consistent fashion.

Despite those few writing flaws, “Fury” is still a gripping war drama that thrives off its sturdy cast and visceral battle scenes. Though it didn’t live up to the hype of it being a potential Oscar contender, it nonetheless makes for a very worthwhile theatrical experience.

 

RECOMMENDED: “Fury” is a thrilling viewing for war film aficionados, and also a satisfying showcase for it’s charismatic lead stars.