Tanks? No, Tanks.

Writer/director David Ayer likes things gritty. With crime dramas like the original The Fast and the Furious, Training Day, and Dark Blue, scripts he wrote, and Harsh Times that he wrote and directed, he focused on the mean streets of South-Central LA and populated them with criminals and rogue cops who weren’t any better. He ended up making the excellent slice of police life End of Watch as an apology to cops for his earlier movies. His first produced screenplay, though, was U-571, a WWII story about a mission to capture the German Navy’s version of the Enigma code machine. It had Matthew McConaughey being schooled by hard-edge sub skipper Bill Paxton that to be ready to command a sub, he had to be ready to send men to their deaths. (The film was notable mostly for re-writing history, since it was a British mission that captured an Enigma machine.) Now Ayer returns to WWII with Fury.

Ayer is aiming for Saving Private Ryan significance, but instead he winds up in the neighborhood of The Dirty Dozen with a bit of Kelly’s Heroes thrown in, without the comedic element of those two movies. Fury tells the story of a Sherman tank crew that has almost made it intact all the way through the war. It’s now April,1945, and the Allies are pushing deep into Germany. The war will be over in a month. Sergeant “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) is in command of the tank called “Fury” with a crew of Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LeBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), and Grady “Coon-ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal). In an action just before the movie starts, the crew has its first casualty when the front machine-gunner is killed. The movie does show a fair amount of gore, so it can thank Ryan for its realistic portrayal of what can happen to a body in a battle, though strangely near the end of the movie death is shown with in the pristine version of war movies from the 1940s.

Into the crew is thrust a replacement with no training. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is a clerk, fresh from boot camp, when he is detached from his unit to be the crew’s new gunner. It’s obvious Ayer wanted a Corporal Upham character, the role played by Jeremy Davis in Ryan, but does it in a way that strains credulity. The US Army didn’t skimp on training and would not have assigned someone like Ellison to a tank crew. They weren’t in the position of the Wehrmacht at the end of the war, having to draft schoolchildren and pensioners to fight. But Ayer wanted to show Ellison’s transformation under the almost psychotic “hard love” of Wardaddy from a callow youth into a trained killer.

There are some good parts of the movie. It does do a decent job showing how a tank crew works and gives a realistic feel for being in action in a tank. A scene where four Sherman tanks, which had notoriously light armor, take on a heavily armored German Panzer provides a view of battle strategy, and the cost involved. On the negative side are two scenes where POWs are summarily executed, which would have got those involved courtmartialed and sent to the stockade (where they could have been recruited for The Dirty Dozen). There’s also a scene that could have been a good emotional moment, similar to the pause before the final battle in Ryan, but Ayer’s heavy hand turns it into obvious manipulation. In the climactic battle, he also has a German toss a grenade with the longest fuse ever manufactured.

Pitt manages to make Wardaddy sympathetic, though the other characters are more caricatures and don’t really go below the surface bluster. Lerman plays a character who’s out of his depth, but that could also go for the actor. He did good work in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but his role here is written as an archtype, not a realistic character.

Fury is the spiritual child of the B movies made during WWII, without their immediacy in relationship to the war. It doesn’t translate to a commentary on current warfare; if you want that, rent Lone Survivor or The Hurt Locker. So the real question that runs through your head while watching Fury is, why was this made?

Ayer may need to make another war movie, as an apology to servicemen this time.


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