Fury has the subtlety of a tank. It’s slow moving, it’s clumsy, and it doesn’t manage to deliver dramatic moments with things quieter than a cannon.
This isn’t to say that Fury is a bad film, on the contrary: it’s an exceptionally well acted movie about the horrors of war. Or maybe it’s about the camaraderie that gets forged in the fires of conflict. Or maybe it’s just about seeing Brad Pitt mow down Nazis with a .50-caliber machine gun in what might have been a deleted scene from “Inglorious Basterds.”
Brad Pitt and company are a tank crew working their way closer and closer to the heartland of Germany. Logan Lerman, a desk typist with no combat experience, gets sent to join them after one of their group dies.
Fury has a lot of things it wants to be. There are moments where you genuinely feel for this band of troops: Norman the rookie, Wardaddy the stoic leader, Bible the devout believer, Gordo the drink-loving joker, and Coon-Ass the– well– ass. There are moments with tense and creative tank battles where writer/director David Ayer makes being inside an armored death machine feel like a vulnerable place to be. There are moments like when a corpse is pancaked by the onslaught of tank treads and children dangle from the ends of nooses as the convoy drives through. Fury can’t commit to being the action war movie, or the horror-of-war war movie, or the buddy war movie. It’s an amalgam of greater films.
Despite the shaky script, the main cast does a stellar job. Joe Bernthal’s character is a loud mouthed bully, but Bernthal always brings a much-needed energy to the crew’s banter, and later in the film, he delivers a genuine, heartfelt moment. Shia Labeouf and Michael Pena performed well, but their characters ended up being regulated to what felt like more of a background role. Logan Lerman’s Norman is the surprise show stealer; he plays doe-eyed innocence and hateful war-machine equally well. The weak link, as it turns out, is Pitt. Pitt’s character is the wise leader who got his crew this far with hardness and battle smarts. But Pitt doesn’t do enough to take the character beyond that archetype the way the rest of the cast does.
Ayer’s direction is good, but too uneven to reach the next level. The early tank battles are thrilling because you feel that the crew is in serious danger, despite being inside a tank. The final fight loses too much of that tension. There are moments of genuine humor and bonding between the crew that endear them to us and each other. Then there’s the lengthy middle scene — where the soldiers interact with some locals in their down time — that just slows to an uncomfortable crawl. The character interactions feel awkward, fraught with tension that doesn’t have a clear point of focus and fails to have an effect on either the beginning or ending section of the film. Whenever something good starts happening in Fury, the next scene is bound to have a bump to take you out of the moment.
But, Fury is not a bad movie. It’s clear that the cast and crew working on it believed in what they were doing, and that sort of care always shows. Still, the script takes place over 24 hours, leading to some seriously implausible character transformations and some unearned dramatic moments. The earlier parts of the movie are a serious meditation on the horrors of war, but even then it fails to fully deliver; it thinks horrific imagery is a valid substitute for thoughtful commentary. By the end, “Fury” morphs into a standard war action movie. For every moment it gets right, the next one is bound to misstep. I’m frustrated with Fury because it could have been really great; there’s so much that could have been explored with this premise and this team of people working together that just fell by the wayside. Don’t feel that you shouldn’t go see Fury, just don’t go see it if you’re expecting Oscar material.