April, 1945. As the Allies make their final push in the European Theatre, a battle-hardened army sergeant named Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) commands a Sherman tank and her five-man crew on a deadly mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered and outgunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, Wardaddy and his men face overwhelming odds in their heroic attempts to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany.
At one point between skirmishes, Wardaddy tells young buck Norman (Logan Lerman), “Ideals are peaceful; history is violent.” If there’s one thing Fury doesn’t shy away from, it’s that war is violent. More than any war-set film since Saving Private Ryan, violence and its ramifications permeate Fury. But beyond making some admittedly impressive war scenes, is there a point to the violence of the film?
Set in a span of 24 hours, Fury follows the soldiers of a tank called (you guessed it) Fury during the final days of World War II. Wardaddy and his crew have endured the difficulties of war for years, and they’re all less men than shadows of men merely existing. With one of their men killed in a just-concluded battle as the film opens, they’re assigned Norman, who hasn’t seen combat yet. What he gets is a crash-course in the cult-like environment the rest of the tank has developed, whether out of a sense of survival or something far more sinister. Their repeated mantra: “Best job I ever had.” It’s not something most people would say.
Director David Ayer seems obsessed with making dark films with dark subject matter, where few (if any) of his characters are even remotely sympathetic. We saw it earlier this year with the abysmal Sabotage, and while Fury is a significantly better film, he’s more focused on the visual component than anything resembling character development.
Wardaddy is given a little depth as someone clinging to the idea that when the war is over, he can maybe return to a normal life. Norman is shown quickly turning from a fish out of water into a member of the team. The rest of the members – Bible, Coon-Ass, and Gordo – are largely background to fill in the scenes. While Pitt and especially Lerman are used effectively, LaBeouf, Bernthal and Peña are wasted.
At this point in his career, Ayer’s filmmaking preferences are rather clear. With the right material, like possibly the just-announced Suicide Squad film he’s signed to, he could make a great film. In spite of some strong technical achievements and solid turns from some of the cast, though, Fury isn’t quite there yet.