That’s how I felt going into Fury, David Ayer’s new war flick starring Brad Pitt, Shia LeBeouf, and Jon Bernthal. The premise seems entertaining enough — a sort of Band of Brothers meets A-Team except with a tank instead of a black van — and my buddy, he of foreign movie and artsier tastes, tempted me by describing it as a possible Saving Private Ryan except with the brutality and violence spread evenly the movie.
Not that violence is a good thing, but Saving Private Ryan felt like two great movies stitched together or rather like a coin on its side that gives us one view, that of the terrors of war, before flipping over and showing us the other, the psychological damage and unbelievable bravery that scales that wall.
But in the end, Fury was no Ryan — and if I had looked up Ayer’s previous movies before walking into the theater, I would have known better. Why? Because Ayer is no moralist or uplifter, and the only happy ending I’d get is knowing World War II ended with the Allies claiming victory.
While Fury may have cinematic cues in part due to Steven Spielberg’s epic war movie, it’s a much more stark look at war that doesn’t attempt to glorify or try to make peace with it.
Don Collier (Brad Pitt), known by his field tag Wardaddy, leads a crew of veteran soldiers operating a tank during the last days of the war as Allied troops storm Germany. While Hitler’s forces recruit women and children as a desperate measure, Wardaddy and his men move from point to point, though we’re told from the onset that American tanks were inferior to their German counterparts.
After one of Wardaddy’s gunners is killed in battle, Normal Ellison (Logan Lerman) takes his place, but he’s about as green as can be. It’s only a matter of time before he witnesses the horrors of battle — “What men can do to each other.”
This movie will break you in so many ways, whether you’re a warhawk or pacifist. Fury looks like a war movie, sounds like a war movie, and fights like one too — but it’s really a parable of life aptly titled.
“Best job I ever had,” the soldiers say before heading into a suicidal mission — and it sort of sounds like the pep talk I give myself every day before work. Watch as Ellison’s change from dainty-fingered typist to World War II veteran comes with a giant hitch — each experience peels away his innocence, leaving scars like sin. We see how each of Wardaddy’s men, from the Bible quoting Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LeBeouf) to the grime-toothed Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis, have each lost a bit of themselves, jettisoning their sensibilities as they just follow orders. They’re left with different shades of anger boiling quietly but intensely under the surface — an emotion that fills the whole movie with unbearable tension.
“It isn’t about right or wrong,” Wardaddy tells Ellison after he forces him to gun down a surrendering German. War, like life, beats men down until they become monsters fighting for survival. And when beauty presents itself — it’s but for a fleeting moment until it’s smeared by human depravity which ends up begetting even more depravity.
The ending may follow a similar route as other war films as our men go up against insurmountable odds, but it’s the last line that hits you square in the chest. It’s then we realize our heroes are the most damaged of all.