When we first meet Brad Pitt’s character in the World War II drama “Fury,” he is catapulting himself off the top of a tank and toward an enemy combatant astride a pale horse — the same color horse that Death rides — amid a muddy and ruined WWII moonscape.
Pitt’s character is a man of action, a man with a knife in his hand and anger in his eyes — and he does precisely what is required of him, quickly and efficiently. He doesn’t do it because he wants to. He does it because he has to. He is more than a soldier. He is a warrior.
His name is Wardaddy — that’s what the four men serving under his command in his tank squad call him — and he is battle-hardened, battle-scarred and battle-weary.
He is also the walking, talking personification of writer-director David Ayer’s violent and muscular World War II drama, a film that rockets forward dripping with blood, mud and testosterone. “Fury” might be light on plot — it’s little more than the story of five guys in a tank, pushing deep into Germany in World War II in the desperate, deadly closing days of the war — but it’s an engrossing film, rich with action and emotion.
That’s because, in addition to dripping with mud, blood and testosterone, it also drips with credibility. Here’s a film that does for tank warfare what “Das Boot” did for submarines, or for what “Saving Private Ryan” did for D-Day.
It thrusts viewers through the hatches of Wardaddy’s M4 Sherman tank — his hulking armored home away from home, the nickname for which doubles as the film’s title — and offers viewers a look at life, and death, on the front lines of history’s deadliest war.
To an extent, that approach makes sense. One of the things Ayer’s movie does best is to shrink the war down to a 10-foot-by-10-foot microcosm (or however big the inside of a Sherman tank measures). That is the world the men of “Fury” occupy, and until the war is over, anything beyond the range of their guns doesn’t exist.
It’s an interesting filmmaking tack. Where most movies benefit from overstating things, from rendering them larger than life, Ayer recognizes that the value in taking something that is almost incomprehensibly enormous and making it small and, as a result, intimate.
Still, it’s hard not to want to know more about the men of “Fury,” about who they are beneath the grit and caked-on blood. That flaw is compounded by the film’s predictability. Any moviegoing veteran will tell you about midway through “Fury” that there’s really only one way for the film to end. Ayer would have been wise to make more of an effort to defy those expectations.
But those are minor gripes about a film that gets far more right than it does wrong. Earlier this year, when the World War II drama “The Monuments Men” landed, I wasn’t the only one complaining that it’s been awhile since we’ve gotten a good World War II film.
With the arrival of Ayer and Pitt’s “Fury,” we can stop complaining.
FURY, 4 stars out of 5
Snapshot: A gritty World War II drama about the members of a five-man tank squad as they push deep into Germany in the closing days of the war.
What works: It is muscular and intense stuff, as writer-director David Ayer puts an emphasis on capturing a sense of life on the gritty, emotionally turbulent front lines of history.
What doesn’t: As strong as the performances are, most of the characters feel a touch one-dimensional.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena. Director: David Ayer. Rating: R, for strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout. Running time: 2 hours 14 minutes.
This story was originally published in October 2014 by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.