It is 1945. WWII is coming to an end and an American army sergeant named Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) is leading his tank crew (Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal) through Germany. After one of their gunners is killed in battle, they are given a desk clerk named Norman (Logan Lerman) as his replacement. Terrified and inexperienced, Norman must learn to trust Wardaddy to lead him through the horrors of war.
Director David Ayer, who came to prominence for writing 2001’s Training Day, impressed in 2012 when he directed cop drama End of Watch. If that film put Ayer on the radar as a solid director, Fury should catapult him into the A-List. It is a wholly engrossing dramatic war thriller that is difficult to fault. This is an intimate war story. The whole film is told from the perspective of one five-man tank crew; we aren’t shown anything that is happening anywhere else in the world. This intimate setting gives Ayer (who also wrote the screenplay) a chance to develop his characters and show the war through their eyes. Each of the five main characters is fleshed out successfully, but not necessarily by having anything of their past or nature spelt out for the audience. They may seem like stereotypes at first – the hardened sergeant, the wide-eyed novice, the God-fearing man, the family man and the unstable wildcard – but Ayer and his actors are incredibly skilled at giving these men depth.
Performances in the film are phenomenal across the board. Pitt portrays Wardaddy as a flawed anti-hero, which is refreshing for one of the biggest stars on the planet. It is a courageous performance that displays a complete lack of vanity on Pitt’s part. Logan Lerman, who was so good in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, is even better here. His Norman enters the film like a frightened puppy and Lerman sells this naivety perfectly. He gradually becomes more hardened as the film unfolds, and Lerman’s progression throughout the film is quite impressive. Most surprising though is the performance by Shia LaBeouf. More famous in recent years for his bizarre off-camera antics than his acting, LaBeouf gives easily the best performance of his career here. From the moment we lay eyes on him, it is clear that this is a man who has seen things he wishes he could forget. There is a sadness and exhaustion in his eyes that is impossible to ignore. If he continues on this path, LaBeouf could develop into one of the finest actors of his generation.
Fury is probably not the film that many viewers are expecting. A WWII tank movie starring Brad Pitt certainly has the potential to fall into the ‘rip-roaring Nazi hunting action fest’ category, but Ayer thankfully makes the film so much more than that. There is no moment in Fury where you would be tempted to cheer. Each death in the film is a tragedy, and Ayer is making it clear that the atrocities of war are never a thing to be celebrated. The audience sees the film through Norman’s eyes, and through his eyes war is a terrifying embodiment of hell on Earth. It is best if you enter the cinema not knowing the major beats of the film, but there is a great deal of imagery in the film that is likely to haunt you long after the credits roll, and moments that will fill you with pure terror. In this sense, Fury often plays like something of a horror film. This aspect is aided by the beautiful yet haunting score by Steven Price, who recently won an Oscar for his epic and iconic score for last year’s Gravity. Price’s score is filled with a mixture of chanting and stirring strings and is one of the best dramatic action scores in recent memory.
Fury is quite unlike any war film you have ever seen before, and is quite simply one of the most emotionally shaking films of the past decade. It gives audiences a taste of what is might have been like to be part of a tank crew during WWII, with thrilling action sequences and strong characters making it utterly immersive for its entire running time. Director David Ayer has presented an unflinching portrayal of war that will not quickly leave your mind. The film ends on an incredibly moving note, suggesting that the true horrors of war are those that the soldiers face once the shooting stops and they are forced to confront the silence.
Review Score: FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Fury is currently screening in cinemas around the country.