War is Hell. “Fury” is very clear on this point and it goes out of its way to show you just how raw and primal it can be in an attempt to be a significant film. Set during the final months of World War II in Europe, “Fury” follows the fortunes of a Sherman Tank crew led by gruff, battle-hardened Staff Sergeant Don Collier (Brad Pitt). With their bow gunner having been killed, Collier’s crew are assigned a green, recently enlisted typist (Logan Lerman) as a replacement crew member. This causes some friction with the rest of the veteran crew, the deeply religious gunner Boyd (Shia LaBeouf), the rakishly petulant driver Trini Garcia (Michael Peña) and the borderline psychotic and slow-witted loader Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal). The crew eventually bond as their mission progresses and the relentless grind of combat takes its toll.
“Fury” is desperate to mean something, and at every turn it seeks to force the audience to confront their own assumptions of good and evil, imposing a kind of pious complexity across the characters and situations, muddying the morality of everything into a murky quagmire. Hence we have Pitt’s taciturn, sometimes brutal tank commander show us he’s not all cold-blooded warrior by sloping out of sight of his men once in a while to show he has all the feels while others under his command behave in ways that have you hoping he’ll shoot them where they stand. This dedication to showing the horrific actions on both sides makes it difficult and occasionally repellent to care for some of the tank crew and only Lerman’s raw recruit emerges as anything approaching unsullied. The characters are largely one-dimensional archetypes, drawn from a dozen other WWII movies and the cast do everything in their power to elevate them above the clichés they could be. The performances are universally excellent, if a little over-intense at times – almost like everyone (except maybe Michael Peña) had their mind’s eye on a certain little golden statuette when they thought they were making something profound. Even LaBeouf, notably downplayed in the pre-release publicity, delivers the goods in a way that reminds us why he was once hailed as the next big thing.
Action, however, is where this film excels. The combat scenes are nerve-shreddingly intense tense and thrilling, the sense of danger visceral and authentic. The extensive use of tracer fire might lend it a surreal veneer of scifi action but underpins the attempt to make the combat as real as possible, showing the incendiary rounds’ use in pinpointing targets amongst the smoke and chaos. Tank combat has never been shown as powerfully as this on screen, where the battle visuals compare favourably to that yardstick of quality “Saving Private Ryan”. Casualties and fatalities are abrupt and often gruesome as the film seeks to reinforce its message about the horrors of war, and even in the aftermath of the fighting the undercurrent of barely-restrained violence permeates everything.
As a visual and auditory experience, “Fury” is an all-out shock and awe assault on the senses and sensibilities but it’s when it reaches for more that it stumbles. Grim, morally ambiguous and brutally kinetic, “Fury” is a great World War II action movie but it’s no more than that. In its headlong rush to show how edgy and raw it is, it fumbles some of the storytelling, leaving some important narrative threads lacking closure when the smoke clears, not least of all what the point of it all was. Yes, war is Hell. This film isn’t quite Heaven.