It was François Truffaut who once argued that there’s no such thing as an anti-war movie. It’s a statement that may have finally been disproven by David Ayer’s Fury. Amongst all the films set on the battlefield, filled with larger than life figures and epic action sequences, Fury is the one that seems to capture best the overwhelming trauma of government-sponsored murder. Its protagonists are all, with one exception, emotionally destroyed human beings. And the whole movie is about how they band together to traumatize that one exception as quickly as possible before he gets everyone killed.
Brad Pitt stars as US Army Staff Sgt. Don Collier, whose tank – dubbed “Fury” – is making its way through the German countryside in the waning days of World War II. Hitler has militarized the entire country, pitting trained soldiers and children with rocket launchers against Collier and his crew. Shia LaBeouf is Lloyd Swan, a true believing Christian who runs rings around the Bible to justify his participation in the conflict. Jon Bernthal is Grady Travis, an utter wreck of a human being who uses bullying and bonding to hide his disgust with himself. And Michael Pena plays Trini Garcia, who carries a look of sadness that’s impossible to penetrate.
And then there’s Logan Lerman, playing Norman Ellison, a fresh-faced recruit with no tank training whatsoever. He is also, to Collier’s absolute disapproval, their new gunner. Ellison sees Germans as human beings. He refuses to shoot them in the back. He’s the worst possible soldier to add to Collier’s crew, and he will learn why.
David Ayer’s depiction of World War II is all mud, viscera and Hell. Pieces of human face litter the inside of Collier’s tank, unnamed corpses are mowed down by its treads. Morality is a luxury the heroes of Fury cannot afford. Survival depends on the destruction of their enemies and the absence of their humanity. It is beyond grim.
It is also beyond exhilarating. Ayer stages his tank battles like none ever seen, the tactics clear and the devastation intimate. Impossible obstacles stand in Fury’s path and crawling over them has a horrifying cost. But although Ayer never takes his eye off the shocking tragedy in Fury, he never lets the gloom descend into the realm of the maudlin. For better or worse, war gets the adrenaline pumping, and the action sequences in Fury are riveting, intense spectacles on par with anything ever before captured in World War II cinema.
But Fury does pause, in part to prove that it can. After a successful victory Collier and Ellison take refuge – and essentially hostages – with a young German woman and her younger German cousin. There’s a quiet understanding that this war is approaching an end, and civility may be, at last, an honest possibility. Brad Pitt briefly lets his toughness dissolve in Fury, and here in this one extended sequence we see a glimpse of who Collier would like to be when he isn’t a monster. And just when you’re wondering where all this quietude is going, Ayer’s screenplay gatecrashes itself, revealing the whole interaction for the fantasy it was. And what, one suddenly wonders, is sadder than the moment when you learn you’re not allowed to dream?
Fury is not a World War II movie for a generation proud of their accomplishments. It may even be a nightmarish flashback to the physical and psychological torture that scarred them. This is the World War II that J.D. Salinger wrote about, where all the good intentions fell through the soldiers’ fingers like pints of gushing blood. It captures in a rare and profound way the nerve-shattering intensity of armed combat through stunning cinematography, haunted performances and terrifying action. Fury is one of the great war movies. It’s every single thing that it should be.