Written and directed by David Ayer, Fury, tells the brutal story of a five American soldiers in the 2nd Armored Tank Division during the last month of the European Theater during World War II. Lead by their battle harden sergeant, Don "Wardaddy" Collier, the men fight against all odds while creating an unbreakable bond. Fury seems like just a standard World War II movie, but I assure you it's much more. Like Ayer’s previous work, End of Watch, its less about the action (which is there in a big way) but rather more about the effects of war. “Wait until you see it...what one man can do to another man.” A chilling quote indeed, but that is what Fury is, an intelligent look at brutality and brotherhood. Not since Saving Private Ryan have we seen a WW2 movie so unabashedly violent. Arguably the European Theater was the most brutal part of WW2, and Fury holds nothing back. The film opens with letting the audience know that at this point Adolf Hitler has called for total war, otherwise known as the demand that all able bodied Germans fight, including children. That is an important thing to remember in the final scenes of the film.
We begin our journey with Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) and his tank crew. Each member of the team has a distinctive personality and sense of self. No one character fades into the background or outshines any other. The man who managed the tank’s main cannon was Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf). The driver was Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña). The on board engineer was Grady "Coon-Ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal). Four men who come from seeming diametrically opposed viewpoints work as a cohesive team when the time comes. They have been fighting together since early battles in Africa against the Germans. They live and breathe warfare inside their home away from home, the tank called Fury.
When they have to make a stop at a U.S. base they are forced to take on an additional member to their little dysfunctional family. A young army private by the name of Norman "Cobb" Ellison (Logan Lerman) is dumped into the laps of 4 men who would rather step over him then let him into their “home.” Norman is an 18 year journalist who is forced into this tank division due to the army's heavy losses. Sergeant Collier is none too pleased by this revelation, but reluctantly concedes. The film does a great job in showing the juxtaposition of the 4 battle hardened men and the fresh face kid out of journalism school. Collier’s countenance is riddled with scars that show a hard life. Brad Pitt’s natural charm is brushed aside here for a by any means necessary mentality. “You see a German with a gun, you kill em...even if its a kid,” says Collier after Norman’s first incursion in the field.
The movie goes back and forth between building real connective tissue between the team members and stellar action sequences that will likely stand the test of time. Neither element drags the movie too far in one direction. When the action sequences do come, they are fast, loud, brutal, and jarring. Norman plays as the eyes and ears of the audience. We know about as much as he does when he sits in that tank for the first time. During Norman’s first battle things are happening so fast. Its confusing and unsettling at first, but its such a powerful way to do it. You don’t get the rhythm of warfare at that point. Rhythm seems like an odd phrase choice but its accurate. During the second big action beat you get a sense of how fighting in a tank with a team works. With each passing engagement Norman’s sees clearer and hears nuance and the audience right along with him; a tremendous stylistic choice from the director.
The five men gain an all around brotherly respect for one another and become a true team in the end. Pitt’s Collier is the perfect father figure. He sits atop the tank surveying the landscape and the powerful team he has modeled. Peña’s Gordo takes Norman under his wing initially and is a gentle introduction to the team. His gentle demeanor is consistent and makes him a lovable character from the onset. I will admit I am not a fan of Shia LaBeouf, but he does an amazing job here. Playing the role of the Bible quoting Boyd Swan I am often reminded of Barry Pepper’s character from Saving Private Ryan. Then there is Jon Bernthal’s Grady Travis. Seemingly an ignorant hick who just has no sense of dignity about him. Grady is a layered character, and director David Ayer and Jon Bernthal do a wonderful job of slowly unraveling him to both Norman and the audience. Last but certainly not least, Logan Lerman's performance as Norman was thread that made the film truly work. As the inexperienced kid Lerman was perfect. From not knowing what to do next and fearful of making mistakes to a full fledge member of Fury, Norman allowed us to grow with him making his journey our own; thus creating more audience engagement.
All and all, Fury is a shock to the system that only a WW2 movie can be in this age of film and television brutality. Director David Ayer works to create not only big Hollywood action, but also a film with true heart. You get to know these guys in the 134 minutes you spend in their world. They are flushed out and real. While not to the sheer scope and scale of a Saving Private Ryan, the film packs 5 personalities into a tiny space and never lets up. While stacking up bodies and tap dancing on the edge of their own mortality, the crew is heard saying more than once, “best job I ever had,” and you will believe them.
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