Review: Fury

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Let’s get one thing clear – David Ayer’s Fury is no-holds barred violence, an immersive attempt to show the sheer bloody hell of what is was like to be a Sherman tank crew in the waning days and hours of WWII, when Hitler threw every man, woman and child into the frontline, a veritable gotterdammerung of hell, in the Nazis own backyard. But is it great?

No, it’s not. What it is is very ambitious, technically brilliant, exciting, and bloody. The Sherman was known as a Ronson, because of the ease with which German shells would light them up.  In one sequence, a Nazi (they’re always Nazis, even the youths press-ganged into fighting by their elder fanatics) scores a direct hit on the lead tank in a column with a panzerfaust. A crewman staggers out enflamed, and promptly puts a bullet through his brainpan.

Brad Pitt’s Sgt Don “Wardaddy” Collier has guided his crew safely from Africa to the European theatre. He’s a hard taskmaster, who believes “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” Hence his tough, take no prisoners attitude to young greenhorn Norman (Logan Lerman) a typist thrown into the mix by virtue of deadly attrition – he must graduate from 60 words a minute to 600 rounds per minute.

The rest of the crew (Norman replaces the assistant driver, his first task: to scrape the guys face off the inside of their tank, Fury) are a Christian gunner Shai LaBeouf, (shades of Barry Pepper in Saving Private Ryan); mouthy driver Michael  Peña, and almost unintelligible mechanic and loader, Jon Bernthal. Although they are somewhat cliched, all the actors, even Shia, are excellent, and believable as a group forced to work together, run ragged by the stresses they’re put under, but working as a well-oiled machine. Each has a nick-name, Norman earning the moniker of Machine, for learning to embrace Wardaddy’s philosophy of spraying bullets at the enemy, no matter what reservations he held previously.

This is no noble cause, it’s brutal and bloody.  Bodies are flattened into the endless mud, a shell takes a tank commander’s head clean off. Pitt earlier physically forces Norman to commit what is surely a war crime to impart his harsh coda. German women who Wardaddy and a reluctant Norman later impose upon are hostages to fortune, especially when the rest of the crew impose. It dawns that all Pitt’s character wants is a semblance of normality amidst the chaos, and a kindness to Norman – urging him and the younger woman to the bedroom, he tells the elder (handily, in German) “Leave them, they’re young.” The resentful others can’t relax though – their nerves are so frayed, they spoil the party.

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There is no grand scheme, no overarching strategy. It’s capture Germany, town by town, clearing a path for the infantry behind. A superb scene occurs when Pitt and his tiny column are outclassed by a monstrous Tiger tank (a real one, on loan from a British tank museum). They engage in a dance of death with the superior behemoth. Tracer fire of green and red lights up the battlefields, giving a weird unerring sense of veracity that nevertheless makes this feel like some dystopian future hell. The Tiger absolutely will not stop, until you are dead…

A white horse (with Nazi officer rider) appears out of the mist at the beginning of the film, and towards the end reappears, as some sort of symbol amidst the carnage, recalling the opening of Samuel Fuller’s excellent (and superior) The Big Red One. Whereas in that Lee Marvin’s sergeant unknowingly killed after the armistice was announced, the action haunting him, Wardaddy leaps upon the rider, merely signifying the brutality of his existence.

Ayer’s adherence to reality goes somewhat out the window for the extended climax, when the now damaged tank sits at a strategic crossroads, with a fanatical SS column bearing down upon it. Pitt pours M60 fire from the blazing turret like Audie Murphy, as gormless Nazis tumble like ninepins. Remember that panzerfaust from earlier? These guys have several of them, but now the tank, although immobile, is seemingly indestructible.

It’s no surprise that Norman survives. As he’s led away in an ambulance, I couldn’t help but recall Charlie Sheen in Platoon. All that is missing is a voiceover:

There are times since, I’ve felt like the Warbaby of a schizoid Wardaddy” – History is violent, Norman, but Fury’s themes are somewhat second hand. Hell of a spectacle, though. Here’s some tank porn:

 

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