Directed by David Ayer
It’s a rare war movie (“Saving Private Ryan,” “The Hurt Locker”) that is deserving of Academy Award consideration. Usually, their focus is merely high-intensity action and bloody escapism. On a spectrum of war movies, “Fury” is closer to this latter class. But it does it pretty damn well.
It’s 1945. Allied tank crews are deep behind enemy lines in Germany, trying to end WWII. The crew (Shia LeBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena, and Logan Lerman) led by a sergeant who goes by Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) leads a deadly mission of nearly a half-dozen tanks, but finds themselves outnumbered and outgunned by the Nazis’ far-superior machines.
Brad Pitt, armed with an inconsistent Southern accent and a strong sense of patriotic pride, gives a serious (and seriously watered-down) version of his Nazi-hating Aldo Raine in 2009’s “Inglourious Basterds.” As the stakes get higher, Pitt’s character grows more emotional, more complex, and more intense. It does the trick, but you get the sense that Pitt isn’t giving his all. Who does seem to be giving everything he’s got? Tabloid favorite Shia LeBeouf. Say what will you want about his personal life (no, actually, just stop talking about it), but no one can doubt the passion LeBeouf puts into his projects. If we can expect these results, I’m willing to look past personal oddities in Shia’s life. Just keep these performances coming! And Logan Lerman really shows his acting chops as the crew’s rookie, Norman Ellison. Lerman plays scared-shitless with the best of them. But no matter how these actors do individually (and Pena and Bernthal do well enough, too), it means nothing without the incredible group chemistry they have. They’re not always buddy-buddy, but at all times you buy into the idea that these men have been through a lot together of the course of four long years. This ensemble dynamic is dynamite.
With commendable acting, a seriously exciting story, and action sequences that show the harshest realities of war, what keeps “Fury” from the ranks of films like “Apocalypse Now” and “Platoon”? Unfortunately, it’s the timeworn, static, paper-thin character types we see. LeBeouf, (though he does it well) plays a Bible-thumping zealot. Bernthal plays the hardened, womanizing ass-hole. Lerman plays the romantic, fear-stricken youngster. Of course, Pitt plays its level-headed leader. Pena may be the only lead who wasn’t obviously pigeon-holed into a stereotype. None of them have much in the way of characterization. We don’t know about their families or their life before the war. Or their plans for after. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The story is well-paced, and it remains focused on one mission, and one crew, at one period of time. We see what we need to see to invest in the story for over two hours. Maybe, in the end, we would’ve preferred that over the girlfriend or daughter-back-home story that’s never fully developed anyway.
Last but not least, “Fury” marks the first time we hear a score composed by Steven Price since his Oscar-winning (and unforgettable) work on “Gravity” last year. His inconsistent synth, use of muddled vocals, and increasingly faster-paced and higher-pitched sounds carries over, making the final scenes more emotionally impactful than the action itself makes them.
Soon, I expect to be praising serious Oscar contenders every week. But for now, I’m going to keep preaching about escapism. “Fury” may be your last chance to enjoy the trickling afterthoughts of the summer movie season. Bask in it.