David Ayer, Talented Cast Power Dynamic "Fury"

Appraised on atmosphere alone, David Ayer’s World War II action-drama “Fury” is a flat-out stunner, painting the lead-heavy doom and gloom of war like few auteurs ever have. And the “End Of Watch” writer-director proves himself nothing less than auteur here, contrasting the heat of gunfire with the cold, slippery mud of the battlefield so effectively that we can practically smell the gunpowder. The pic’s reliance on practical effects – including some authentic period tanks – muscles it from worthwhile effort to keeper status, smoothing over some narrative bumps that threaten to derail the project in its second act.

Brad Pitt is ideally suited to the lead role, allowing a union between movie star mystique and the hardened enigma that is U.S. Army sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier. It’s April 1945. The Sherman tank under Wardaddy’s command – nicknamed Fury – and its five-man crew are deep in the heart of Nazi Germany. Having lost his gunner, Wardaddy is saddled with Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman, “The Perks Of Being A Wallflower”), a newly enlisted, baby-faced typist who knows next to nothing about the social customs of war and even less about violence.

Filling out Wardaddy’s predictably ragtag team of soldiers are Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf, “Transformers”), Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal, “The Wolf Of Wall Street”), and Trini Garcia (Michael Pena, “End Of Watch”). A handful of films this year alone have foundered in their pursuit of believable family dysfunction. “Fury” finds a natural, thick brotherly angst that’s not even the crux of its narrative, one that provides its cast a fog of built-in drama in which to emote. Surprisingly, LaBeouf is the most effective of the bunch, imbuing the preacher-esque Swan with a deft blend of hope and fear, the latter propagated by his less than high-minded tank-mates.

Garcia and Travis are feral by comparison, the latter all deep-seated Alabama angst but never less than human even in his ugliest moments. Ayer excels in finding the gray tucked beneath the black and white backdrop that was World War II, discovering the inner animal in the war’s heroes and the humanity in its villains. Wardaddy is the conduit between the two, finding wisdom and compassion in everyone but himself. But while Pitt is the ostensible lead, Lerman is our eyes and ears, raising a role that begins in formula to something much, much more.

“Fury” inexplicably grinds to a halt in its second act under the incorrect assumption that its characters need a further dose of human drama. When Wardaddy and company commandeer a small German town, the sergeant sets Norman up with a local girl, doing everything but consummating their relationship. This leads to more intra-group conflict amongst the crew, with the film getting exceedingly talky for nearly a full half hour. The passage’s problem isn’t in its lack of action or even its forced romance, but that it’s overlong and inessential to the narrative. The breathlessness of the rest of the picture is sacrificed for a detour to nowhere, and the work is lesser for it.

Blessedly, Ayer’s finale corrects course in a major way, stirring up smoke and suspense in spades, giving all five of his characters a fitting send-off. They wane like the war they’re staging, all at once emboldened but stretched thin, incensed but defeated, as cruelly divided as the world they’re fighting to save. They can do nothing but wait for the inevitable anti-climax of war – years of gunfire that are sure to end in prolonged silence. The atmosphere of Ayer’s third act is poetic in ways that few films are, scored by a chorale that sounds as if they’re harmonizing with the end of the world. They might as well be.

Apart from some clumsy sequences, “Fury” reliably rolls forward like the machine it’s named after, mangling everything in its path – the nerves of moviegoers, especially. It’s a beautifully brutal work that pulls zero punches, gives zero damns, and willfully mucks around in the muddy moral waters that comprise war, far removed from flag-waving but maintaining serious pride in its deeply flawed leads. It’s not quite a masterwork, but it’s as grimy, as flushed, and as compelling as its subjects – and what better way to pay tribute to a mud-caked team of foul-mouthed Nazi-killers?

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Good)

Release Date: October 17, 2014
Studio: Columbia Pictures (Sony)
Director: David Ayer
Screenwriter: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal, Jason Isaacs
MPAA Rating: R (for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout)