As I tweeted a few days ago, I’m still not sure what to feel about “Fury,” David Ayer’s new entry into the WWII movie canon. It’s violent, but in such a way that it makes the viewer abhor that violence, much like “Wolf of Wall Street” made the audience abhor the trappings of wealth. It’s also very human, anchored by knockout performances by Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf and Logan Lerman. It’s also loosely based on the 2nd Armored Division, but that’s where most of the historical accuracies end. It may be as violent as “Band of Brothers,” but it’s not concerned with telling the story of World War II. No, “Fury’s” priority is examining how the atrocities of war change a man for the worse.
Brad Pitt may be the main star driving the promotion for this film, but it’s not about him. The plot centers on Norman Ellison (Lerman), a young private recruited to Don “Wardaddy” Collier’s (Pitt) tank division. It’s near the end of the war, and Fury, the tank that Wardaddy commands, is on a mission to clear the pathway into Germany for Allied forces.
At the beginning of the film, Norman is a conscientious objector; by the end of the film, he earns the nickname “Machine” because of how adept he becomes at gunning down Nazis. The in-between is a narrative that is equal parts “All Quiet on the Western Front” and “Saving Private Ryan” with some of the visual tones of “300” as Norman witnesses how the rest of his crew became so desensitized, and soon becomes just like them.
The rest of the crew— Boyd “Bible” Swan (LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña) and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal)— are a unit that has stuck with Wardaddy for four years, and they don’t take Norman’s addition too well. They teach him how to be a tanker, and all the good, bad and ugly that entails.
LaBeouf is especially memorable as the Bible-quoting chaplain of the group, as quick with a Scripture reference as he is with a round of artillery. One scene in particular, where he asks Norman if he’s saved, sticks out in my mind. LaBeouf is the actor you remember from this one, not Pitt.
Speaking of Pitt, Wardaddy seems like Lt. Aldo Raine with a more serious bent. At one point he tells Norman, “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent” as a way to explain the atrocities they are committing. He’s got a few more memorable scenes, especially one where he and Norman take refuge in a German woman’s house. Wardaddy is who Norman will eventually become by the end of the film, and it’s a great character study watching the two of them go back and forth.
In the end, this isn’t the best WWII film I’ve ever seen, but this could be about any war at any time. Ayer, known for “End of Watch,” “Training Day” and “Harsh Times,” continues his streak of movies about how violence changes people. “Fury” stacks up against the rest of his portfolio, and is a great entry into the WWII films category. See it if you get a chance.