In 1945 World War II was beginning to wind down, the Allies had stormed the beaches of Normandy a year earlier and had since crossed into Germany on a march to take Berlin. Making up the backbone of the Allied offensive into Germany was the Sherman Tank and its crew of soldiers. Each tank had a crew of 4-5 soldiers; a tank commander, driver, mechanic, gunner, and loader that all worked and lived together in or around their tank. Writer/Director David Ayers has brought the story of one such WWII tank crew to the big screen in Fury.
Fury was the name of the M4 “Sherman” tank commanded by Sgt. Don “War Daddy” Collier, played by Brad Pitt. His crew of 4 was made up of gunner Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia Labeouf), driver Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), mechanic Grady “Coon Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) and machine gunner Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). These 5 men came from distinctly different backgrounds and contributed to the team in very different ways, both professionally and with their personalities.
David Ayers wrote and directed Fury without any real story arc that you can dive into. The setting is irrelevant and the plot details are interchangeable. Much like Ayer’s previous movies Training Day, End of Watch, and Sabotage, Fury places more emphasis on the characters themselves to drive the movie.
Each of the five men that make up this tank crew brings something different to the group that is, at times, complimentary to the team and other times detrimental to the team. The characters are all dichotomies of heroism and villainy. As each character’s story is developed, you see them make incredible swings in their individual senses of morality. As the scenes unfold, you are watching from the edge of your seat to see whether this crew of American soldiers is going to be the pillars of honor that we all imagine them to be, or outright bastards that we should be ashamed of.
In addition to the emphasis on the characters, Ayers also places a great deal of detail on the emotions of war. He drives home the point that those emotions are often complicated and swing between joyful and painful like a pendulum. Acts of bravery and honor are contrasted by acts of rage and depravity. Brief moments of joy are almost immediately negated with overwhelming scenes of pain and loss. From the characters themselves; the youthful fear and idealism of the new guy, Norman, is opposed by the confidence and callousness that comes with being seasoned in war embodied by Collier, “Ideals are peaceful, history is violent.”
Themes of brotherhood and individuality, faith and hopelessness, compassion and vengeance, and bravery and cowardice were all prevalent as Ayers tries to emphasize the duality of war.
Ayers also uses the graphic scenes of battle like a blunt instrument to get across the point of the brutality of war during that era. The clear images of horrific battle injuries and the over-the-top examples of death were hard to see at times. The scenes of battle between the Sherman tanks and the vastly superior German Tiger are historically accurate and will have you sitting with your jaw agape wondering how the Allies managed to win a war with such inadequate equipment. The final battle scenes are emotionally gripping and compelling despite the fact that the end result is so obvious and inevitable.
To complement the diverse characters, an equally diverse cast of actors was brought in to play the various roles; all of which delivered as needed and beyond. Brad Pitt delivers a performance that was equal parts Inglourious Basterds and Saving Private Ryan. Shia Labeouf is able to shake off any negative impact that his off-screen antics, and the Transformers movies, may have had on his career and give a performance that many will be surprised by.
Brad Pitt’s character, Collier, was very complicated one; both for the actor and the audience. Pitt had to embody a man that was very rough on the outside, but also compassionate. Collier was a man that acted as if he was fueled by anger, while trying to balance being reasonable. Pitt is able to deliver on all of those points perfectly.
The true highlight of the cast has to be the 22 year old Logan Lerman. Lerman was remarkable in his ability to step out of the shadow of Percy Jackson, and his other “teenish” roles, and step into a role that is far and away more complicated and mature. Lerman was asked to play a young man that was forced into the role of tank crew member from his previous role as a desk clerk. The character, Norman, is forced to change from meek and cowardly into a machine that would fight and kill for his team without question. In the end, Lerman delivers a performance that should elevate him to more roles that are mature and rich.
As a whole, Fury is one of the best movies that I have seen this year. As disturbing as it was at times, I found myself enjoying every moment. The incredible acting talents on display, the look and feel of the movie from being shot on 35mm film with an anamorphic lens, and the compelling characters all made for a movie that should give even more strength to the already impressive resume of David Ayers’.