Director: David Ayer
Major Players: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBoeuf, Logan Lerman
Out Of Five: 4
This year’s London Film Festival was bookended by two World War II films. The backroom, very British The Imitation Game opened it. Closing it was David Ayer’s Fury – American, gory and squelchily muddy. Two contrasting but complementary experiences.
Fury concentrates on the five man crew of a Sherman tank of the same name. It’s the latter stages of the Second World War, with the allies pushing deeper into Germany but still meeting resistance. After taking a strategic town, the crew are sent on a mission to hold a vital crossroads. The other tanks with them are destroyed and it’s down to the crew and the now-immobilised Fury to hold on to the road at all costs.
It’s an impressive study of camaraderie. The crew are a tightly knit group, bound by the stress and fear of a relentless fight and fierce loyalty to their leader, known as Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) – they all have their own “tank names”. Four of them have been together since the Africa campaign, so when they lose the fifth one at the start of the film, it cuts deep, especially when Wardaddy had promised them at the outset that he’d keep them all alive. The replacement, Norman (Logan Lerman) is a total rookie, an office worker thrust into active service and utterly terrified. Somehow he has to come to terms with what he has to do and learn to become a part of the team. It’s an uphill task.
They’re a diverse bunch: ‘Bible’ (Shia LaBoeuf), whose language is peppered with quotations from the good book, the affable and chunky Mexican ‘Gordo’ (Michael La Pena) and ‘Coon-Ass’ (Jon Bernthal) who is as rough as one. Noman takes some time to earn his tank name. It’s Machine. Then there’s Wardaddy himself, real name Sergeant Collier, who has a side that his men never see. To them, he’s strong, resilient and decisive – but essentially it’s all an act and there are times when he has to escape and draw breath. We don’t know his back story, but there are hints of somebody who comes from a better, more educated background than his men – watch his table manners at the rather incongruous meal they have with two German women after they’ve overrun the small town.
Yet he confesses he loves being in his tank, that claustrophobic tin can that’s home to him and his crew, with all the smells, discomfort and limitations that go with it. And the phrase “best job I ever had” belongs to him, even though it’s a mantra that the crew repeat at the drop of a hat. They say it as if they’re trying to convince themselves it’s true. He means it.
Director Ayer superbly re-creates the mud, blood and general filth of war on all levels. The film opens with a couple of especially hard-hitting images which leave us in no doubt just how horrific it is. After that, even though there’s plenty of blood – especially at the field hospital – the gore subsides. Ayer’s made his point, we’ve got it and he doesn’t need to labour it.
Ultimately, the film is all about futility of war, exemplified by the crew’s last stand. From the air, we see the tank surrounded by corpses as far as you can see. What have they died for? Not much, from what we can see initially, although Fury’s crew do achieve their mission in that the Allies are able to use the crossroads safely only hours later.
The main actors deliver solid performances, with Pitt impressive yet again as the kind of leader you’d want on your side when the going gets tough. And Logan Lerman is convincingly naïve and panicked as the raw recruit, something of an everyman for the audience, expressing all the fear they’d experience if they found themselves in the same situation.
If you don’t usually stick around for the credits, you might want to break your habit for this one. They’re run over some authentic World War II footage as the background, but all the scenes are in striking black and red, just so that we don’t forget how relentlessly brutal war can be. Much of it was shot after the war had ended, with collaborators being hounded. One conflict ends and another begins.
You know it’s not going to end well and you don’t want it to end but, as Wardaddy says, “It will end. Soon. But before it does, a lot more people have to die.” He’s not wrong.
Fury is currently on general release around the UK.