From Training Day scribe and End of Watch director David Ayer comes a World War II drama centered on the five-man crew of an American tanker and their 300 Spartan-esque stand against an army of Nazis. Starring Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal, the film captures the horrors of war in ways we’ve seen before in cinema, yet it never quite achieves the lingering provocativeness of Saving Private Ryan, or the sheer desperation captured in Black Hawk Down, or the engaging storytelling in The Hurt Locker. The film offered some memorable moments, and featured some spectacular performances from Lerman, LaBeouf and Bernthal, but it never quite connected, although Ayer certainly tried to make his protagonists as human and likable as possible. What makes Fury unique is the characters’ interactions with and within the tank, almost giving the audience a sense that the tank is itself a sixth character. Infantry and cavalry always get featured in war movies, but only now has a story about tank soldiers been spotlighted. It was interesting to see how the inside of a tank operates when under heavy siege; even more so because the troops inside the tank are such individuals, fulfilling not only their respective military duties but also inhabiting different supportive roles within the unit as well.
While the war action aspect of the film may have been a little underwhelming (save for one exciting, strategy-laden scene involving four American tanks against one German one), it was the dynamic between the characters that really made Fury worth the watch. There was a sense of brotherhood and camaraderie that every good war movie always imparts to the audience, and this was thanks in large part to the solid acting from Lerman and LaBeouf especially. Say what you will about LaBeouf, but the guy is a fantastic actor. He may be taking method a little far, and I don’t think his stint on Even Stevens still completely justifies his adulthood of strange behavior, but there’s some real talent here and LaBeouf shows that he can take on a role that has a lot of depth and complexity and make it his own. Lerman, on the other hand, showed off his acting chops before on The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and it was good to see that that wasn’t just a fluke. Lerman was so good in Fury that I could almost say it blocks out the godawfulness of The Three Musketeers movie he was in. Almost.
Lerman and LaBeouf were standouts, but Bernthal and Peña also offered some solid performances. It’s difficult to really give Bernthal any major props because we’re used to seeing him play unsavory tough guys (The Walking Dead, Mob City), but there were moments in Fury where he really shone. Peña brought a lot of levity to the otherwise grisly story, and while it was great that he was central to most of the humor in the movie, I was hoping that he would be more than the guy who serves up the punchlines. Pitt has never really been my favorite actor, only because he seems to always come off very wooden (especially in the way he speaks). His performance in Fury is no exception. There was a general lack of intensity on his face that, while perfectly attributable to his character’s cynicism regarding the war, made him slightly less of a beacon of inspiration for his ragtag group of soldiers.
The film looked great, thanks to DP Roman Vasyanov (who worked with Ayer before on End of Watch) and the dynamic camera movement. There were also some really great staging and picturesque scenes. One thing that did bother me a bit about the film, however, was the enunciation from the actors. While I am all about doing whatever it takes to get your character across to the audience, it was honestly difficult to understand some of the dialogue from the actors, because they were reciting the lines with too much character acting (mumbling, putting on accents, etc). Jason Isaacs, whom I love to death, had a really strange American accent (I think he was going for New York) in the film that was really distracting.
Overall, while Fury was certainly a solid flick, it fell a little short of being epic, never really making any novel or interesting statements about war and the experiences of soldiers that previous films in this genre have commented on. If you are a fan of war movies, this is certainly worth the watch for its focus on tanks, but if you’re looking for something more, you may be a little disappointed. While it featured some great performances and was generally well shot, at the end of the day I would not consider it a film that left a lasting impression.