Ideals are peaceful, history is violent.
Not known for sugar-coating his subject material, director David Ayer once again delivers a slice of brutality in war film Fury. Following on from Training Day and End of Watch his attention is reverted back to the story of a US tank squad left to hold a crossroads alone against a battalion of German SS soldiers.
Despite what the posters might suggest, our hero is new recruit Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) who is ordered to join a tightknit tank squad lead by Don ˜War Daddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt). The squad has been together throughout the war and are initially resentful of the newcomer. Ordered to push further into Germany against more and more fanatical resistance, the tank for whom the film is named after finds itself outmatched, outgunned and alone.
Fury is the sort of story that makes heroes of the men after the fact, through tellings and retellings. The beauty of the film is that flat-out refuses to glorify the squads’ behaviour. In the early scenes Brad Pitt’s War Daddy is harsh, violent, and temperamental and in a particular visceral scene forces the innocence out of Lerman’s Norman by forcing him to execute a German officer.
The anti-heroic War Daddy is a man who has been pushed to breaking point by the horrors of war and his only goal now is to keep his men alive and they respond like children respond to their parents, with bickering, fighting and petulance. There are glimpses to his former life, notably the dinner scene in a small German town where he treats two German women with respect and sits down to dinner. But his treatment of his men comes full circle as they interrupt and refuse to let him experience anything like normality. The point being that while they may complain about his behaviour, they need him.
This level of development is highlighted by sublime acting from the whole cast. Shia Labouef, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal all give career best performances, which help build a truly stunning character-driven drama, while Ayer’s direction is tight, sweeping and impressive. The pre-shooting regime that Ayer put into place with the actors, as there is a real camaraderie that goes beyond simple acting and there’s a real sense that the whole squad went through something on set.
There are some issues however, not least of which is the ending. Being a wartime tale of heroism, Fury‘s 300-esque finale is ripe for an overly dramatic last stand. The music swells and Ayer’s shots are grand and heroic in their horror. Unfortunately because of the brutal realism employed beforehand, it feels out of place in the rest of the film. You can’t spend most of the film desensitising your audience to the horrors of war if you’re trying to draw people into a mythological grandstand finish. It doesn’t work and ends up feeling forced.
Like War Daddy and his men, we have been taught that to survive you have to leave your humanity at the door. Asking us to then feel the fervour of a righteous battle at the end is like walking in upon a nice dinner in a German town. It is unacceptable and leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
This aside though Fury is a real experience. The performances, the direction and the score all combine to create a realistic war film that is every bit as good as its most obvious predecessor Saving Private Ryan. Comfortably David Ayer’s best film to date and further proof of why he is becoming on the hottest directors in Hollywood.