Unlike the morally murky or geographically distant conflicts that have provided fodder for groundbreaking work such as Malick’s The Thin Red Line or any number of Vietnam movies, the European battlefields of World War II seem to be off-limits for subtler forms of exploration.
In line with a trend sustained by films such as Saving Private Ryan, David Ayer’s Fury is intermittently compelling but remains unsurprising. The pace is one we’ve come to expect from David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch): the insistent grind of whatever species of violence the director turns his hand to. In this case, that of a five-man Sherman M4 tank squad operating in the war’s closing weeks under the successful leadership of Sergeant "Wardaddy" Collier (Pitt). The squad’s forward gunner has been killed. In the opening scenes of post-battle quiet, it’s his disfigured corpse that rides with them, passing through German villages riddled with fear and desperation. Back at base, they’re saddled with rookie replacement Norman (Logan) and sent off once more into the bloodbath.
Norman’s first job is to remove the remains of his predecessor from the tank’s interior – one of many rites of passage that Collier imposes on him as he instills the no-questions-asked team spirit. Ayer sets this up well, with all five squad members occupying distinct and well-played positions (especially by LaBeouf) in the tank’s cramped interiors. It’s a process bound by brutalization and captured by a camera that operates as if through a shroud, creating a twilight zone of greens, greys and browns awash with dissolution. But unable to resist either a thunderous score or a tonally misplaced ‘Act Three’ intermezzo involving two German women, Ayer douses brutality with occasional showers of compassion, trying to have his cake and eat it as he undercuts the tonal rigour that could have made this an excellent rather than just a good film.
Fury | Directed by David Ayer (USA, UK, China 2014) with Brad Pitt, Shia LeBeouf, Logan Lerman. Starts January 1
Originally published in issue #134, January 2015.