War movies come and go, and despite its goofy name (which makes much more sense after seeing the movie), Fury honestly captures both the camaraderie and the brutal horror of war. Fury is a tank, that also doubles as a mobile home for a motley crew of soldiers lead by Wardaddy (Brad Pitt). After seeing his men through Africa and France, Wardaddy has almost fulfilled his promise of getting his surrogate family home; with only one task ahead of them… the invasion of Germany. However Daddy’s biggest problem isn’t the Germans, it his new assistant driver Norman (Logan Lerman) who was snatched up from the typing pool and can type 60 words a minute. Norman has never seen the inside of a tank.
Wardaddy can see Norman’s weakness from the start and immediately sets out to toughen him up. First, he throws Norm “to the wolves”, letting the rest of the crew get him acclimated to his new mobile home. Shia LaBeof, Michael Peña, and Jon Bernthal round out the cast as Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan, Trini ‘Gordo’ Garcia, and Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis. These nicknames all fit the characters, and they (almost) all stop short of becoming caricatures. The troop gets along like brothers as they make mistakes, kill Germans, and piss each other off.
The story doesn’t allow for some of the grander moments of the war, like D-Day, Fury is more of a personal film about how men deal with the stress of combat and each other. That doesn’t mean these guys are sitting around drinking tea and eating eggs (except for one very well directed scene with the gang home invading a pair of German civilians), this movie is all about the long march through Germany as troops rallied in a last desperate attempt to stop the invasion of Europe.
Lerman shows his full range as Norman, as he learns what it is to be a soldier. Early in the movie he makes the deadly mistake of holding his fire setting off an explosive scene where he faces off against Wardaddy over his inability to kill Germans. From this encounter we watch Norman grow as fighter, soon after yelling “Fuck You” as he kills German soldiers in anger. Pitt lives up to the name of Wardaddy and he and Lerman play well off each other.
The rest of the cast play right into their parts helping to make this unit feel like a family, and not just the cut-outs their nicknames suggest — with the exception of Bernthal’s character, Grady ‘Coon-Ass’ Travis. He seems to be type cast from Bernthal’s portrayal of Shane in The Walking Dead, after he goes crazy and loses hope. At times his crudeness seems out of place and over the top and we never really get a glimpse of the presumed horror that makes him such an asshole. He does get one obligatory scene to show he isn’t a total shit-head, but it isn’t enough. Peña and LaBeof, on the other hand portray their characters with dimension and believability.
The tank battles in Fury are a rare treat and well choreographed. David Ayer directs the gritty battles with intelligence and brutality, while the use of tracer bullets light up the battlefield with an almost laser-like quality. Other than a couple early hiccups in the narrative, the only things that feel out of place are certain sections of the score, like when the Germans are advancing and the music goes so over the top that if you close your eyes you might think there is an army of Uruk-hai from Lord of the Rings. While the rest of the elements of the movie portray the German soldiers as soldiers (or humans) and not demons it is still a little jarring. In one scene one of the boys asks why the Germans don’t just give up, and Wardaddy is quick to answer, “Would you?”, showing that Wardaddy and the other men are aware that they are fighting other men and not monsters, except for the SS.
It’s been a long time since a World War II movie worth seeing for its honesty about war has hit theatres. Fury manages to stay away from the silliness of Inglorious Basterds while stopping short of the epic grandiose of Saving Private Ryan. Fury is a movie worth seeing not just for the sight gags and action, but for a glimpse into the lives of men who risked their lives and suffered immeasurably while they took back Europe in a tank they call home.