Writer/director David Ayer built his reputation on urban action films (End of Watch, Street Kings, Sabotage) involving American criminals and the policemen charged with bringing them to justice. Armed with the star power of Bard Pitt, he’s now turned his attention to the inherent violence of war and the often-sanitized conduct of U.S. soldiers fighting Nazi Germany in the waning days of WWII. Unrelentingly grim and blood soaked, Fury contains a handful of solid performances while providing an honest corrective to the uncritical image of GI’s as wholesome good guys. But as the film unfolds in often stunningly intimate, shocking images, the exploration of its characters’ motivations undercuts and ultimately distorts Fury’s overall impact. Yet the film should be respected as a corrective to a generation of John Wayne-style movies that glorify war without detailing its horrific costs.
Set in the heartland of Germany in the spring of 1945, Fury traces the movements of a veteran tank crew commanded by Pitt, who delivers an impressive performance as an instinctive leader so hardened to the violence surrounding him that he sees further killing as both necessary and justified to bring about the swiftest possible end to the war. His 4-man crew includes an impressionable young replacement (Logan Lerman), a bible-quoting veteran, (Shia LaBeouf) an Hispanic driver (Michael Peña) and an ostensibly loathsome mechanic/gunner (Jon Bernthal). As this quintet lurches through a series of battlefield engagements, Ayer provides a depressing picture of mindless chaos and the brutally numbing effect it has on the combatants.
In the film’s most powerful scene, Pitt requires Lerman to murder a captured German soldier, justifiying the act by saying it simply trains the wide-eyed rookie to do exactly what he was recruited and trained to do; kill the enemy, even if they no longer represent a threat.
Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov captures the frenzy of combat and the lassitude that lies in between battles with equal clarity while veteran editors Jay Cassidy (American Hustle, Into The Wild) and Dody Dorn (Memento, Kingdom of Heaven) bring a staccato rhythm to the script which accounts for the seamless flow of Fury’s 2¼-hour storyline.
Despite a protracted final battle that tries to lavish a degree of unwarranted nobility on Pitt and his tiny command by placing them in a battle with the curious absence of all the other allied troops fighting in overwhelming numbers at the end of the war, Fury does what it sets out to do; deliver an unflinching portrait of war’s depravity. Not bad for what is essentially an action movie masquerading as something far more sophisticated.
The Verdict? Unrelenting physical violence coupled with moral exhaustion in as depressing a film as I’ve seen in a very long time.
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