“Ideals are peaceful… History is violent”, drawls Brad Pitt as Sergeant Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier after teaching new recruit Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman, Percy Jackson and The Perks of Being a Wallflower) a lesson in the brutalities of war, one which Writer/Director David Ayer is keen to impart in Fury. He’s not entirely unsuccessful in his objective but therein lies the main problem: Fury is so full of moral questions, themes and lessons on the brutality of war that it never has time to truly draw you into the struggles of the characters.
The film follows Collier and his tank crew as they fight through the final months of the second world war, we’re told it is the final push and Hitler has declared “All Out War” in which even children have been called up to defend the motherland. It’s a brutal period of fighting during which the allies couldn’t take any risks because even a small child could fire a rocket and destroy a tank – even a child could be the enemy.
In many ways, Fury deals with a part of history often ignored by films. There are a lot of films about D-Day, there are a lot of films about liberating the concentration camps but so few about the war of attrition which took place in between. It’s a refreshing angle on a genre so inundated with different films and the refreshing take is largely successful. The action is exhilarating and, although frequent, never boring. Ayer clearly has skill in shooting scenes which could become tedious in a way which makes everything seem fresh. Even though there are some odd visual quirks (bullets flying around resemble laser beams from Star Wars for some reason) the furious, frantic nature of war is captured with great finesse – and without a disorienting shaky cam shot in sight.
What Ayer – who previously worked on The Fast and the Furious & S.W.A.T – struggles with is making the characters sympathetic. Although we’re already inclined to pity them for their situation (a lot of effort has been put in to ensure that the tank feels and looks real, and it really works) simply because they’re in a war they probably don’t want to be in, not enough is done to delve into their characters. We never know who these people really are so can’t relate to them and so don’t become emotionally invested. Nonetheless, the performances from the tank crew are all excellent, particularly Shia Labeouf who finally achieves his goal of doing some ‘proper’ acting and not miserably failing. Logan Lerman is a little lacking in lustre but he’s not given a very convincing emotional arc to travel on so it isn’t entirely his fault.
What Fury is desperately trying to be is Saving Private Ryan but instead it mostly reminds you of how good that film was. Here we’re lacking the backstories which made the soldiers feel more human and less like Nazi killing machines. Perhaps that’s what Ayer was looking for but it just doesn’t make it a story you can truly invest your heart into.
As a lesson in the brutalities of war, Fury does a convincing job but the effort to make a detailed and visceral war film meant a sacrifice in the quality of the character drama. It’s a story about five men in a tank but it never feels human.
Fury is out now in wide release. Image Rights; Columbia Pictures