Fury isn’t bad, but it promises more than it can deliver. Perhaps, if you’ve never seen a World War II movie, or any story about the roughhouse camaraderie of men in battle, you’ll be forgiving of its tropes. The battle scenes are intense and the characters well-drawn, if taken from a familiar Hollywood playbook. But writer-director David Ayer set out to show us a side of WWII we haven’t seen before and in that he has fallen short.
As a throwback to 1940s storytelling, Fury does score points. Brad Pitt does a solid job as a smart, swaggering tank commander nicknamed Wardaddy who leads his crew into Germany in April of 1945, during the war’s final days. There is mortal danger at every turn, lurking in the woods or hiding out of sight in a seemingly quiet village: the Nazis refuse to give up. Pitt and his men have already seen war at its worst, unlike their new green recruit (Logan Lerman) and nothing shocks them anymore. They all know they’ve committed atrocities, and it has changed them forever; now, they’re just trying to stay alive.
The colorful, multi-ethnic characters who populate Pitt’s tank (named Fury) could have come from a vintage movie like Howard Hawks’ Air Force. Shia LaBeouf is nicknamed Bible, because he’s always quoting from the Good Book. Michael Peña is a sharp-eyed Mexican-American gunner known as Gordo. Jon Bernthal is an aggressive Southern hick nicknamed Coon-Ass. And fresh-faced Lerman is Norman, the new guy who’s been sent into action from the typing pool. Any of this sound familiar?
What a director like Hawks couldn’t have envisioned is the ability to make wartime violence seem so real. In the post-Saving Private Ryan era, and with the help of CGI, a filmmaker like Ayer can bring home the horrors of combat, long-range and close-up. The feeling is compounded during a preposterously long sequence in which Pitt and Lerman take a time-out from fighting to socialize with a German woman and her teenage daughter. The point of the scene is made early on, and then driven home repeatedly, with diminishing effect.
For the presumably male audience that craves action, Fury delivers the goods. Brad Pitt fans will also be pleased. But I was hoping the film would offer insights about a phase of World War II that hasn’t often been explored…and that’s the source of my disappointment.