The brilliance of Fury, featuring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf, lies in its containment – after all, it is about soldiers in a tank – and its unapologetic lack of charm.
The subject here is fury. Anger and hatred put into motion.
In a familiar storytelling approach, director and writer David Ayer throws an untested recruit in with some of the most battle-tested soldiers in the war, members of a tank division who have fought their way through Africa and Europe, finally slugging it out through Germany itself.
We’re so close to the heart of desperation that Hitler has declared “total war,” the film’s introduction informs us.
That means every man, woman and child in Germany has been put into active service. Those who refuse to fight, including children, are hung in public with signs denouncing them as cowards.
Pitt plays Don “Wardaddy” Collier, the tank commander. LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal are members of his crew.
Ayer is hoping a big, rolling, steel box with a cannon on top and five men inside will give the audience a new vantage point to see the war. This is what war looks like through dirty windows that are mere slots in a steel container that looks like a futuristic Rhinoceros beetle.
But Fury is much more than the sum of its parts. The film shows an innocent, unsullied soldier thrown in on a suicide mission with men who have been through hell and back. These American soldiers are dangerous-crazy, but they are soldiers, so loyalty, heart and a willingness to pull the trigger are still high on the agenda.
As commander, it falls to Collier to instill in the new recruit a sense of why killing without hesitation is the soldier’s basic currency. “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent,” Collier declares.
Meanwhile, Trini “Gordo” Garcia (played by Pena) tells the new recruit to shoot his automatic weapon in short bursts. “That way, you hit more meat per bullet,” he says.
In many movies (Rambo, et al), this conceit is played up for sweat equity. Look at that madman hack his way through enemy ranks!
Here the fury is not romanticized. It is portrayed as the act of shell shocked men in desperate times clinging to a bit of sanity. Given the atrocities they survive, their fury has purpose, even beauty. It is not random. But it is also not charismatic or comical.
For my money, Fury is Shia LaBeouf’s breakout film. Forget the chipmunk roles he played as a teenager and the coming of age stunts called Transformer films.
Sure, I could watch those films repeatedly, but LaBeouf as Boyd “Bible” Swan is the actor fully realized. This is a vivid performance, maybe the supporting role of the year when Oscars come around.
The only problem there is that Logan Lerman as the innocent Norman Ellison may have done him one better.
All the supporting performances are exceptional here and Pitt is terrific. In fact, with a little more character development, this would be a classic film.
Just as it is, however, it is one of the best of the year.