It always seems like there will be no end to the fertile narrative crops that can be harvested from the rich and bloody soil of World War II. Saving Private Ryan laid everything to rest for a short while, but in the last few years we’ve had a resurgence of WW2 based tales, from Inglorious Basterds to the television epic Band of Brothers, right up to the more recent yet slightly lacklustre Monuments Men, there’s been a decent crop of war based goodness to go around. Stretch back even further to World War I and you also get the recent and astounding Ubisoft game, Valiant Hearts: The Great War.
Fury makes no effort to stand out as anything more than a gory and brutal war tale, and it is all the better for it. The film takes place at the tail end of the war, with the allies on German soil advancing into the heart of the country, aiming to do everything to Hitler but save his brain. They come up across harsh resistance in the form of Germany’s more advanced tanks, and of the significant presence of a desperate German army fighting to defend their home soil and their families. “Why don’t they give up?” Logan Lerman’s rookie Norman asks in the middle of the fray.
“Would you?” comes the response from grizzled and scarred vet Don “Wardaddy” Collier, which is another example of Brad Pitt back on top form, even if he’s essentially channelling Aldo Raine from Inglorious once more, only sounding slightly less redneck. The remainder of the tank crew are made up of a ragtag crew of Shia LeBoeuf (Boyd “Bible Swan) Jon Bernthal (Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis) and Michael Pena (Trini “Gordo” Garcia). Logan Lerman completes the team, coming in late as the green as grass rookie who gets beaten around like a sack of potatoes and generally spends the majority of the film as the human equivalent of a sick puppy with a broken leg and a bad case of cholera. They all have silly war nicknames that you can guarantee soldiers never actually gave to each other, and they’ve dubbed their tank Fury, with the words scrawled in white across the cannon barrel. It looks cool until the twentieth time the camera lingers over the words while the war goes out with a bang.
And indeed, there are bangs aplenty. Fury is absolutely relentless, a well over two hour long spectacle of violence and fire and gore. The power of the tanks is palpable, with masonry crumbling and the surround sound booming as Allied and Nazis alike are blown to pieces or set on fire or horribly dismembered. The film spares no expense in making you feel like you might lose your popcorn, and there are scenes that go from gory to downright harrowing. Fury slows down in the middle for a tense scene between Norman and Don with two innocent German women that revels incredible nuance to these characters. From the start we are generally led to believe that “Wardaddy” is a nasty piece of work, right from the incredible understated opening, right up until he forces a gun into Norman’s hands and physically and mentally tortures him.
That’s the thing about Fury, it’s full of surprises, and even if you’re not traditionally a fan of war films, there’s a lot to love here, even if love isn’t exactly the right word. The film is brutal from start to finish and even the briefest moment of reprieve ends with a heart breaking moment that really makes you wish the Fury crew would just lie down and die so you can escape the horror. The film ventures into the realms of clichés when events are reduced to the heroic stand off several times over, but with a great chunk of the film taking place inside the claustrophobic confines of the tank, it always feels salient. At the start you feel like the crew are invincible inside their metal shell but it soon becomes clear that it’s a prison, especially when we see a fellow tank destroyed early on, in a moment that will surely mess poor Norman up for life, even if the rest of the events don’t.
Fury deftly walks the line of being a chest pumping movie of patriotism while also ticking all the boxes covering the general war is horror theme that these sorts of films must have. It gives both sides their due diligence, showing each of the tank crew generally being absolute bastards at one point or another, particularly in the cases of Wardaddy and Coon-Ass. There are flavours of Stephen Spielberg’s Duel in a showdown with a superior German tank in one tense encounter. The tank feeling positively demonic in its power not powered by Germans but controlled by pure hatred. The war may be lost but there is still ample chance left to make the Americans suffer.
Fury has at least three sequences that will leave you on the edge of your seat with your heart in your throat. You come to genuinely care about the tank crew and their bonds are palpable and their relationship realistic. They’ve been together since a campaign in Africa and Norman is the newbie, a weedy loser who hasn’t even seen the inside of a tank and has never even held a gun, let alone fired one before.
Each of the crew have standout performances, with Jon Bernthal showing that his unhinged portrayal of Shane in The Walking Dead was just the tip of the iceberg, And Shia LeBoeuf is good enough to make us forget that meltdown and remember why his name was notable in the first place, even if his appearance makes him look like a middle aged man from the seventies. Logan Lerman shows signs of having a stellar career ahead of him now that he’s stretched his range once more beyond being the tween action hero or the quiet weirdo. By the end of the film you can see him headlining his own action movie, for better or for worse.
The battle sequences are incredible, with the sound and lights of the tank fire and bullets almost being enough to make you crouch down in your seat to avoid taking a shot to the head. Fury is brutal and uncompromising and while it might not be the best war film out there, it’s definitely close to the top of the table.