Fury treads in places war movies rarely find success, and does so with captivating force.
Writer/director David Ayer (End of Watch) strikes a clean balance between the brutality of battle and the humanity of war, and the result is a stellar film that reminds us of the mental toll war takes on its combatants.
It’s April 1945 in Germany. The war isn’t over yet, but the Germans know the end is close, meaning they’re more reckless than ever in their attacks on American troops. Leading the five-man Sherman tank nicknamed “Fury” is Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), who early on tells naïve and innocent Norman (Logan Lerman) to kill an imprisoned SS officer. Norman has never killed anyone, and doesn’t intend to start. “It’s not right,” Norman says, sticking to his morals as if he has a choice. “We’re not here for right and wrong,” Wardaddy barks, giving Norman a rough education on the reality of war.
It’s a fascinating moral dilemma other war films gloss over: Does Norman have to abandon his values to survive in war? Is Wardaddy or the SS officer the bigger monster? Doesn’t Wardaddy have to make sure Norman can kill in order to protect the rest of the squad, which is depending on Wardaddy to keep them alive? Fury certainly isn’t the first movie to address these themes, but it’s one of the few to successfully make an emotional impact and then seamlessly move back to battlefield violence.
Joining them in the tank, where “war names” are commonplace, are Bible (Shia LaBeouf), Gordo (Michael Pena) and Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal). They, along with Wardaddy, have accepted murder as part of their duty and are numb to it. This is what makes Norman so interesting — he is an innocent who doesn’t belong in war, like so many before him who’ve gone to battle and had to do what they always thought was unthinkable: kill another human being. Norman’s transition — and the nickname he earns — is one of the most devastating character arcs in quite some time, and Lerman is fantastic in the role.
“Ideals are peaceful, history is violent,” Wardaddy says. So is the movie. It’s no worse than Saving Private Ryan and other R-rated war films, but the action is intense and harsh. The story takes place over 24 hours, and the cold muck, overcast skies and plethora of corpses cast an ambiance of gloom over the proceedings. Additionally, the battle scenes, which are masterfully done, provide only the relief of survival, not happy endings, and grasps at humanity from all members of the squad are always desperate, never feasible. Of all the places in the world to be throughout history, this is toward the bottom of the list.
“Your eyes see it, but your head can’t make no sense of it,” Gordo says of the horrors of war. Indeed, we come to realize that Fury isn’t just the name of the tank (or movie), it’s also the state of mind needed to defeat an enemy that will kill you without hesitation. There are a few minor flaws and clichés, but Fury is one of the best war movies in quite some time.