Review: David Ayer's 'Fury' Feels Like Something New Despite Cliches
by Jeremy Kirk
October 15, 2014
Writer and director David Ayer brings his particular brand of hard-hitting action and remorseless intensity to the muddied front of World War II-torn Europe in Fury, more specifically the metal beasts that rolled through the landscape on rusted tracks. Fury’s heart is in both the hardened men inside those tanks as well as the hellish events that made them that way. It pulls up a number of war movie tropes, some of which give the film a shopworn feel. Regardless, the out-and-out ferocity of Ayer’s camera and action with a staggering slate of performances led by Brad Pitt makes Fury as solid as any good war film before it.
Pitt plays Staff Sergeant Don Collier, commander of a Sherman tank whose crew of five are the closest the Army has on the Nazi Germany ground, so much so that Collier has been given the lovely moniker of “Wardaddy.” His men, played in the beginning by Shia Labeaouf, Jon Bernthal, and Michael Pena, are also the best performers when it comes to tank combat. There’s never been a predicament they haven’t gotten themselves out of.
When their fifth falls victim to the horror of war (before the film begins) a replacement comes in the form of young Norman Ellison, played by Logan Lerman. Ellison is hardly ready for combat let alone the nightmarish situations that come with it, and his mettle is quickly tested, his potential and deserve to fill that fifth seat always in question by the others. Though the war is nearing its end the German soldiers are pushing back harder than ever, and Collier and the crew of "Fury" are all going to be tested.
There’s no question Ayer, who has delivered top-notch action time and time again with the likes of Harsh Times, End of Watch, and Sabotage from earlier this year, can offer the goods when it comes to stylistic action. With Fury he gives us something we’ve not seen from the director before, a period-set war piece that never dissatisfies with its creative set pieces and flurry of interesting sequences. Ayer’s camera gets right into the action on ground, darting around and near the tracks of the tank and along the grimy ground underneath them. He effortlessly moves us through the interior of the tank, giving us a solid look at where everything and everyone is laid out, and it's amazing how this small set comes to life once the action hits.
But it’s not just extreme closeups and frantic movement of the camera that keeps Fury’s intensity from ever slipping. Ayer, who also serves as screenwriter here, progresses the film with a nice ebb-and-flow pace, sometimes hanging onto one or the other for longer than expected. Never fear for dullness, though. That violent “other” is always right around the next bend. He peppers every moment of downtime with a sense of foreboding, generating suspense through the actions of the German soldiers as well as this rag-tag group of American soldiers with which Ellison is forced to become comfortable. They are all killers of men, these soldiers who fought the Great War, and Ayer goes the extra mile in digging into what that action of taking another’s life can do to someone.
Though Fury often slips into the stereotypical antics seen in most World War II films – there’s the hackneyed subplot concerning what Collier did before the war – it blasts through the cliché with a multitude of stunning, sometimes frightening, visuals. Even the atmosphere, laid on thick by Ayer and cinematographer Roman Vasyanov, calls to mind the classic depictions of Hell, the ground often on fire and the sky often filled with heavy smoke. The commencement of an air battle as seen from the ground is just one of many spectacular images, and, when we’re given an actual tank-versus-tank sequence, the composition of shots and movement of camera solidifies it as one of the best and most innovative action scenes in a World War II movie. That it isn’t all that long is the only reason it doesn’t rival the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan.
As you would have guessed by the roster, Ayer’s cast turns in some of the most eye-opening performances of their career. In the lead chair Pitt is as good as ever, his emotion bringing out the intensity found in Sergeant Collier but his eyes always showing us that the man inside may not be as cast-iron as his outer shell. I’m not talking about the tank, either. Equally as impressive is Lerman, flawless here as the conduit for the audience into the inner-workings of the crew and their vehicle and the cold nature one must take on in order to survive a war. His presence alone is a cliché in the film, but Lerman’s performance is solid enough to overcome any ensuing disinterest you have in the character.
The rest of the crew offers up one solid performance after another, even though their characters are never as fleshed out or deserving of empathy as much as Collier or Ellison. LaBeouf brings a subtlety to his character, the religious member of the crew who’s naturally been rechristened "Bible" by his tank-mates. Bernthal and Pena deserve credit, as well, as they each turn in lively and genuine performances, the kind that makes them incredibly memorable despite their lack of full-fledged backstories.
Every frame, every performance, and every turn is memorable in Fury, a tough war movie that cuts into the meat of soldier and what makes him tick while also serving up a healthy supply of stinging suspense. In 2014, with the world getting a steady dose of World War II movies for 70-plus years, it’s hard to pull off something as cleverly structured and dynamically executed as Fury. The tropes that fill it and so many recent war movies are there for a reason. They’re honest, and, with the constant waves of intensity and emotion with which Ayer has littered his latest film, Fury comes across as something entirely new. It’s a war movie for people who have been hardened and battle-tested by the best, a true gift for fans of the sub-genre.
Jeremy's Rating: 8.5 out of 10
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