War is bad, really bad. It’s also dirty, really dirty. But there are heroes, real heroes. We should respect them, really respect them. Yep, it’s that movie again! Now with Brad Pitt.
The latest in the seemingly endless stream of WWII epics cranked out by Hollywood is called ‘Fury’. Even though that title refers to the tank at the center of the action, it’s still about as generic as war movie titles get. Yet, for this specific war movie, that name doesn’t quite feel generic enough. Something like ‘World War II Movie Vol. XXXVII’ might be more appropriate. Writer/director David Ayer (‘End of Watch’) has gathered a bunch of grizzled men and shoved them out on a mission again. While Ayer takes an admirably filthy approach to the material, he also slavishly trots out every familiar genre trope for one last blast. There’s nothing overwhelmingly wrong with the film, but there’s nothing particularly exciting about it either. It’s just another trip through the war movie motions, and one that doesn’t even dare to offer audiences a sense of fun or a moment of relief. There’s far too much reverence involved for that.
Brad Pitt stars as the commander of that tank called Fury. The war is nearing its end. Hitler’s army now only commands Germany and the walls are closing in. Pitt’s been fighting since the beginning, gradually working his way through Nazi colonies all the way to the center of Germany. He’s weary and worn, but he’s a survivor. So is his entire tank crew for that matter, including folks like gunner Shia LaBeouf and driver Michael Peña. Most people in their position have long since died, but under the guidance of Pitt, they keep going.
The film opens as they return to base after one of their crew took a bullet to the face. They’re assigned fresh-faced recruit Logan Lerman (‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’), who has never seen combat before, and have to show him just how tough war can be while also slowly showing hints of friendship. From there, the movie is a series of viciously violent battles building up to the inevitable final battle. The rigid string-of-battles structure is broken up only through one endlessly long scene that feels like a play in which Pitt and Lerman try to find a little peace and home in the middle of the battlefield with a German mother and daughter, only to have the ugliness of war spoil that moment as well. You see, because war is ugly and ruins all things.
Ayer’s primary intent with the movie seems to be staging WWII combat with filth and grit and blood that removes any and all romance from the violence. Many scenes are indeed quite nasty in a way that rarely makes it through the studio spin machine. Yet the effect is also quickly exhausting. That’s undoubtedly a deliberate attempt to make warfare seem as deadly and endless as possible. However, it removes any and all sense of action or thrill from the movie and turns it into a morbid slog.
The central characters aren’t much more than stock types either, such as the token Christian, the hopeless newbie, the gross guy with bad teeth, and the fearless leader. The actors admittedly do good work within those constraints (with, shockingly, a particular standout performance from LaBeouf), but the overwhelming tediousness of the structure makes it hard to care.
Hollywood gloss does occasionally slip through Ayer’s filthy machine as well, and is all the more distracting for how out of place it feels. In particular, Brad Pitt’s finely combed hipster hair is the only thing on screen that seems impervious to the dirt, blood and even explosions of war. No matter how bad things get, Pitt’s hair remains perfect. And if you notice, you can’t help but be distracted from start to finish.
In many ways, ‘Fury’ is a success. It presents war as raw and ugly in visceral ways. The action is always well staged, and the performances are strong. And yet, by virtue of the fact that absolutely every element of the movie is so familiar and repetitive, it’s hard to ever get as wrapped up in the material as Ayer clearly desires. No matter how well the director achieves his filmmaking goals, he’s never able to overcome the fact that each and every one of those goals has been achieved many times before.
For those who simply love war movies as long as they’re competently made, ‘Fury’ will undoubtedly be an enjoyable picture. However, for anyone expecting something other than the norm, ‘Fury’ never really registers. The movie fulfills the required Hollywood mandate of releasing a prestige war picture every few years. It’s just a shame that no one involved dared to do anything to make this entry unique.