Fury Review: The Brutal End To War
Posted on October 21, 2014
Germany, April 1945. Hitler has mobilised every man, woman and child. Those who refuse to fight are hung by the roadside and labelled cowards. Heavily outgunned by the much bigger German tanks, American Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt) has managed to keep his tank crew alive since the North Africa Campaign. We meet them on a decimated battlefield. Their assistant driver has just been killed.
On the red carpet at the London Film Festival’s closing gala, Fury’s writer-director David Ayer (End Of Watch) talked about the nobility of fighting in the last days of war when home was so close:
“We all know the outcome at that point and there’s a certain nobility to fight on anonymously and risk your life on a daily basis despite knowing the eventuality. And at that time the fighting was pretty tenacious, very brutal.”
It’s not only this brutality, this cruelty of war’s final days that Ayer captures so successfully in Fury, but also the devastating culmination of pro-longed fighting on Fury’s tank crew. In the film’s opening moments, background details reveal piles of dead soldiers bulldozed into mass graves and even more bodies stacked onto the back of passing trucks. Later, a tank drives over another dead man, flattening his body into the thick mud. The volume of death is immense. Men are disposable. In the words of Wardaddy, ‘Ideals are peaceful, history is violent’. The war ‘will end, but before it does a lot more people got to die’.
“Ayer has a firm grasp on the horrific details of the last days of war”
Ayer provides a way into this inconceivable world through Norman (Logan Lerman), a young typing clerk newly assigned to Wardaddy’s crew, who’s ‘never even seen the inside of a tank’. A predictable move on the part of Ayer perhaps, but an effective one. Norman is fresh, green, unwilling to kill. It’s through Norman’s innocence that Ayer is able to reveal war’s true toll on the tank crew. By contrast, the battle-worn team are desensitised, depressed, hardened. Even the most prudent, Wardaddy, has visible signs of encroaching Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. From the moment Wardaddy grips Norman’s hand, forcing him to shoot at a captured German soldier, his emotional paralysis becomes explicit.
Ayer digs into the psychology of his characters, unafraid to slow his film to a crawl for a dinner table scene with terrified German women that reveals Wardaddy’s longing for normality and the devastating impact of the D-Day landings on his crew. Any semblance of normality must be savoured. This team – a born again Christian (Shia LaBeouf), a depressed Hispanic driver (Michael Peña) and a pent-up southern ammo loader (played by a staggering Jon Bernthal) – have little in common outside their wartime experiences, yet Ayer teases out their remarkable attachment in fast paced banter and arguing. It’s an impressive ensemble featuring some of LaBeouf and Bernthal’s best work to date.
Of course Norman must become a soldier and, throughout Fury, he most certainly does. Ayer’s handling of the transition is often ham-fisted though, signalled more than once by Norman’s profane death threats, yelled at Nazi’s from behind his weapon. Even so, Ayer succeeds in cutting out sentimentalism. The shift in Norman is brought about by the sheer necessity of teamwork.
“Fury is an exceptional example of how to shoot battle sequences”
In the place of sentimentalism Ayer gives us the claustrophobia of the tank: a place of camaraderie, of exhilaration, of fear, of death and of bloody, half blown-off faces. Fury is an exceptional example of how to shoot battle sequences. Ayer makes thrilling work of his cumbersome Sherman tanks amid the smoke and confusion of battle. The sound too is a tour de force, capturing the suppressed vibrating bass of explosions as heard from inside the tank, as well as the unsettling crystal clarity of gunfire outside it. Matched with the atmospheric, taught, foreboding score from Steven Price (Gravity), Fury makes for an intoxicating, tense and often horrifying war film.
While the last sequence stretches believability and approaches romanticism, Ayer’s firm grasp on the horrific details of the last days of war – from Germany’s child soldiers, to survivors who have lost everything, traversing vast expanses of muddy fields – gives his film a bleak realism that reflects the biting reality for both sides. Fury’s final sequence is best seen as a fitting metaphor for the nobility Ayer so eloquently speaks of. In Fury David Ayer reminds us that the end of the war is just as brutal, unforgiving and violent as the start.
Verdict: ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ 4/5
Running Time: 135 minutes
UK Release Date: 22 October 2014
Images: © 2014 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.