Fury shell shocks audience with its brutality

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3 out of 4 stars

Welcome to Nazi Germany. Have you prepared yourself for the horrors to come? But wait, the Allies have already won, so there’s nothing to fear. Except the remnants of the Gestapo who have nothing to lose.

Brad Pitt-1Writer/director David Ayer takes on the period war genre with (no pun intended) guns blazing and the final product is incredibly effective. Despite an uneven structure, Ayer’s screenplay fits the decade well and the cast matches the fervor Ayer brings.

It’s Germany in April 1945, and the Allies’ advance has nearly come to a close. Staff Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) has led his five-man crew in a tank called “Fury” on various missions for what seems like an eternity. Having lost their assistant driver in the most recent battle, “Fury” finds itself with new recruit Army typist Private Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). Now the crew, rounded out by Technician Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Corporal Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña), and Private First Class Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Berenthal), must survive in enemy territory, against more powerful machines, and with a fifth of their crew untrained.

PenaWriter/director David Ayer (Training Day and End of Watch) got his start as a screenwriter, and a talented one at that. However he has slowly revealed that he has incredible strength as a director of actors, and an action director who can direct actors well is a rare breed. He proves this again with a solid ensemble that commits one-hundred-percent. Ayer also continues to show skill with well-paced, tense action sequences. He creates the sensation of senseless violence that never beats the audience over the head with “WAR IS BAD” slogans. And Ayer’s handling of the brutal (no, I mean BRUTAL) violence of this film also never seems gratuitous; after all, this was WWII and men died in horrid, gruesome ways that stuck with surviving soldiers, so why hold back for the audience?

Ayer’s dialogue continues to be strength for him as well. His gritty, testosterone-driven characters fit right into their period, but still maintain his urbanized word choices in an organic way. Ayer has split the movie into three VERY distinct acts, almost so distinct that it distracts. The second portion takes a dip in momentum and intensity (much needed) in a German town that has just been taken, but this scene almost wears out its welcome.

LaBeoufThe entire segment lasts thirty-ish minutes and feels like it has been pulled out of another film. Despite well-acted performances and a strong sense of pace, the film probably could have benefitted from losing the scene for the sake of continuity of tone and character. Yet despite its jarring presence, the segment works as a scene separate from the movie.

These toned-down scenes unfortunately could have benefitted from pulling the throttle back on the trigger-happy editing. Thankfully, the cutting from an action perspective never fails, and the battle sequences provide a nerve-wracking sense of danger throughout.

Enemy CountryThe last battle sequence of the film takes an interesting theatrical turn in terms of lighting and staging, courtesy of cinematographer Roman Vasyanov (End of Watch and The East). The more saturated yellows and reds feel appropriately grimly glorious. Composer Steven Price (Gravity) creates a pulse pounding score that ties well with the film’s tension, even if the choral arrangements seem a bit heavy handed for a war movie. And only occasionally does the production design feel a bit “on set,” such as the worn down, artificial-feeling grass the actors walk across.

Pitt gives a quietly ferocious performance, keeping a careful lid on the shellshock torrent that tears him apart from the inside. His natural delivery helps to add a layer of sympathy to his otherwise steely character. Lerman gives a well-drawn portrait of a young man out of his element. His interactions with Pitt are spectacular, especially in a difficult scene in the first act where we see the real arc of Lerman’s character take shape.

Peña does fine work, but has been given a more thankless role as a type rather than a character. And while Berenthal’s full throttle “hick” does make a nice counterpoint to the more underplayed Southern characters, he occasionally overdoes the stereotype.

Fuey-SilhouetteThe most fascinating performance in Fury comes from LaBeouf, whose intensity and focus are mesmerizing. He has been given very little development and yet has truly created a fully fleshed character, even if occasionally he slips into “Acting” with a capital “A”.  And props to Jason Isaacs in a bit role as a well-worn captain, a part he makes the most out of, even if for a mere five minutes.

The hardest thing to accomplish is to introduce new thematic material in a well-worn genre. Maybe the sense of war-drawn brotherhood doesn’t break the mold here, but a vibrant sense of uncompromising respect has been reimagined by Ayer. His sense of flow could have used a more solid edit, but the sense of honor and loss the audience leaves the theater with is palpable.