“We ain’t in the prisoner takin’ business, we in the killin’ Nazi business. And cousin, business is a boomin’.” Those words, spoken by Brad Pitt’s broad shouldered and bravely leading Lieutenant Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds, sum up his team’s situation for the most part of Fury. Unlike Quentin Tarantino’s 2009 masterpiece, this film, from writer/director David Ayer, centers more on the hellish aspects of warfare instead of a comedic what-if scenario. Pitt’s character is leading a squad against the Nazis, but he isn’t the Jewish leader of a group of Jews set out to destroy Hitler. Instead, he plays a harsh military leader named Don “Wardaddy” Collier, one who has been in and around the war for far too long. It’s evident in his face, words, and actions. He’s tough, he’s mean, and he’s equipped with an instinct to survive; he and the rest of his team. This is something to get adjusted to when a new member is thrown in the mix, played by Logan Lerman. This new addition isn’t used to the ways of war. He has been trained to type 60 words per minute. This is his specialty. Not the heat of battle. Wardaddy must maintain a strong hand in his leadership while making hard decisions to teach this new recruit what it takes to survive in the midst of war.
It’s probably worth mentioning that Wardaddy’s crew operates out of a M4 Sherman tank named Fury. This is where the film gets its title and it’s also where it creates its characters. Wardaddy, along with Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), and Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena) have been operating out of Fury for years. It’s only natural to assume that these men, beaten mentally and physically and forced to endure each other in a claustrophobia-inducing capsule, would be gruff and mean, and so they are. Jon Bernthal, known primarily as Shane from The Walking Dead and for that small role in The Wolf of Wall Street, is great in this movie. Michael Pena, who worked with director David Ayer in End of Watch and also stars in the new miniseries Gracepoint on FOX, is equally terrific. It’s awesome to say that Shia LaBeouf is excellent in the movie because it doesn’t get said enough. His character desperately clings to scripture and faith, and LaBeouf really gave a performance that is one of his absolute best. His public persona has gotten the best of him recently, but with this and movies like Lawless and Nymphomaniac, he’s proven that he can really act.
The performances are all great but they aren’t singular efforts. The film is flooded with the idea that we need each other, and these performers are great with each other. This is also a credit to director David Ayer, who proved with End of Watch that he can make characters’ conversations feel like real life. The two actors I haven’t mentioned in detail are Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman, and that is because they are the two main characters of the movie. Brad Pitt never ceases to give a bad performance and I think he is one of the most underrated actors of our time. No one seems to talk about the amount of quality performances he gives, and Fury is no exception. He gives a brutally harsh performance as the leader of the determined squad. Logan Lerman as the new recruit to the small team is also excellent, and this is probably the best performance he has given. He takes the stereotypical fish-out-of-water character and really does something with it. But it’s the chemistry between Pitt and Lerman that drives the film. Wardaddy is the leader and Lerman is the rookie, and that leaves room for a lot of training and much tough love. And the actors deliver.
Writer/director David Ayer has done a great thing with Fury and that is not making one side look great and the other evil. Yes, the Nazis are painted as the bad guys and the Americans are painted as the good guys, but not everything the American troops do is pretty. They don’t kill Nazis and hug in victory. They make hard choices. The kill, and they slump around and cry. Faces covered with dirt, blood mixed with sweat. It’s a tough film to watch, and Ayer raises a lot of serious awareness. Some may be too much for some viewers. One scene involves Wardaddy forcing Norman to kill a German soldier against his will to simply teach him a lesson. Is it morally wrong? In the midst of life and death war battles, such luxuries may not exist. After Norman fails to kill Hitlerjugend teenagers for the sake of them being teenagers, Wardaddy tells him that if he sees a “baby holding a butter knife in one hand and its mother’s tit in the other,” he has to kill it. This is the kind of character Brad Pitt plays, and whether or not you roll with it, it’s more than likely an accurate depiction of military leaders like him.
Something else that struck me as being accurate to real situations in Fury was the dialogue. To my surprise, this movie had a great sense of humor. Surrounding the death and despair and gloomy atmosphere of the end of WWII, our main characters still connected with their human side. They joke around with each other, pull pranks, and just laugh with each other when the time allows. In one scene, Norman and a walking girl make eye contact and one of the soldiers says, “Don’t get too excited. She’d fuck you for a chocolate bar.” This joke then escalates to one of them saying, “I wonder if Hitler would fuck one of us for a chocolate bar?” Silence follows, and then erupting laughter. It’s this kind of humor that may cause controversy with sensitive audiences, but it is inevitably accurate to men that lived in this situation.
David Ayer doesn’t hold anything back in terms of violence and bloodshed. The film opens beautifully with a soldier riding toward the camera on a horse, only to be pulled off of it and stabbed repeatedly in the face. As blood and rain fill a muddy plain, a decomposed body can be seen flattened into the surface. It’s a brutal experience. But the movie is also very unique. It’s odd to say, but there are times when it feels like a fantasy film. During the incredibly filmed action scenes, the tank and machine gun fire light up the screen with red and green blasts that present the visuals of a lightsaber duel. It caught me off guard, but it’s David Ayer’s vision, and it made the battle scenes pop with visual fervency.
The film has very few flaws. There are times in the first half that drag just a bit and the movie centers more on war as a character instead of making us care for the actual characters. But that’s really it. David Ayer has crafted an excellent war drama. The small and quiet scenes (one taking place inside a private residence in the middle portion of the film) work and provide escalating tension, while the battle scenes are filmed with tremendous skill. I’m confident that David Ayer will do a great job directing DC’s “Suicide Squad.” He knows how to film action. If you appreciate war movies, be sure not to miss Fury. It may just be one of the best movies you’ll see this year.
Fury (2014) 135 mins Rated R for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout Starring Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Pena, and Jon Bernthal Written and directed by David Ayer