David Ayer is somewhat of an undecipherable filmmaker for me. With his last movie End of Watch, it was the performances and the writing that allowed me to look over bad direction. In his latest movie Fury, it was the performances and the direction that allowed me to look over the bad writing. As bland and unsurprising as the story and characters are, Ayer’s clear passion for an accurate look at World War II shines through and manages to shine some great performances from specifically Logan Lerman, Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf along the way.
An enlisted typist named Norman (Logan Lerman) is brought in as assistant gunner in a World War II US tank called Fury after the crew’s gunner is killed. He isn’t the most brave or strong person but thanks to the cruel, enraged, sadistic crew of the Fury tank run by a sergeant who calls himself Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), his eyes are opened to the barbaric, ugly nature of war.
I wouldn’t call myself that knowledgeable about World War II but the movie seemed extremely realistic about the subject. The movie looks as though David Ayer wanted to make the most raw, dirty war movie possible. The Fury tank used here was actually a real life US tank from World War II and all of the costumes, settings, visual effects and choices in shots put you into the period. He does a good job making the war zone look like hell with the somber music by Steven Price and the bloody, grim, stylized cinematography. Most of the time the movie is taking place somewhere that is grimy and twisted and filled with nonstop gore. The movie is accurate in what it’s trying to get across but it also takes you quite a bit into the sheer adrenaline boosting fights.
The war scenes in my opinion are close to flawless. The sheer work that went into it shows and it helps you to become absorbed by everything that is going on. I respect how David Ayer decided to do something different and not do the shaky cam action revolutionized by Saving Private Ryan. There is so much efficient editing, great shots, outstanding cinematography and constant action going on and I really feel like this might be one of the violent looks at war that you’ve ever seen. The sound design is flawless, some of the best I’ve heard for a movie this year. You get to hear every step, cut, shot, blast and yell with the utmost, crisp clarity possible. The gore used in the movie is very genuine looking and there’s so much of it that’s going on that by the end you feel you’ll probably feel you’ve experienced one of the most disgusting, bleak places on earth.
Yet for all the sadness going around, you’re still cheering when Norman blows up a Nazi. This isn’t a bad thing at all but rather an honest perspective of how humans react in this kind of ordeal. Ayer realizes the grave, darkness of World War II but he also understands the purely visceral, heart pumping things that would drive a man to do it in the first place. You understand what is going on is grotesque and you get plenty of moments to see that its horrific but when you’re right there standing on the edge of life or death in that moment, you take some sort of warped, heart pumping excitement from what is happening because you have no time to think about whether its right or wrong, this is an aspect of war we rarely get to see. Yes they are in hell and David Ayer definitely makes sure that we see that it was not at all glorious but we also experience the visceral, deeply human thrills that would come with standing on the brink of survival. To the movies credit, there are a lot of slow moments and many of the characters are very terrible people so it helps prove that this is about people and the things they do when they’re in it.
The performances are all quite good. Brad Pitt is giving one of his most energetic performances in years as the sergeant of Fury and much like his character in Inglorious Bastards, he plays a sort of symbol for the message the director is getting across. Wardaddy is the perfect, John Wayne, American soldier gone mad, destroyed by years of mayhem and bloodshed. Shia (I’m not famous anymore) LaBeouf is excellent as the stereotypical bible carrying, southerner who uses religion to hold on to his sanity. Michael Peña as always is very likable in this movie and adds sympathy to someone who is probably the least interesting character of the entire group. I actually think Jon Bernthal was amazing in the movie as Grady but I also feel he was given the most poorly written character in the film. Grady isn’t so much a character as a plot device used when the director needs someone there to be angry or yelling, that’s the extent of that person’s identity. It may not be shocking as his character had the biggest transformation in the script but Logan Lerman as Norman gives the best performance in the entire movie. The way he starts as this weak, terrified kid and ends as this brutal, angry killing machine equally to Wardaddy shows the ways war can morph someone. His best scene in the movie is the one where you can actually spot the second where he succumbs to what is going on around him, it’s angry, it’s bold but it’s quite possibly something that any of us would do if put to that task.
The movie is at its best when the characters are there in the battlefield, in the moment. The screenplay very much falls short when it tries to accomplish anything other than the theme at hand. When the characters are walking around conversing about religion and life you get to see a few of the cracks in Ayers ability to write compelling dialogue. There’s an extremely long dinner scene that happens halfway through that no doubt many critics will praise, I personally thought it was unnecessarily long. It starts off as ok but it goes on for so long that by the end I didn’t really see a point to it and I don’t feel it had a good enough pay off to such a huge amount of buildup. Unlike Brad Pitt’s previous war movie Inglorious Bastards, David lacks Tarantino’s ability to use long periods of dialogue to build up intensity and character, here long, conversations fizzle out and just sort of end. Ayer’s writing is okay when they’re in the tank or on the battlefield because he does a good job handling what people would do in that situation but when he tries to do these big scenes that talk about deep topics that have been discussed to a better extent in war movies before, it comes off as something that David Ayer thought was more profound and original than it really is.
Also for as raw and realistic as the movie is technically, the bare story is disappointingly predictable. Despite the help good performances, many of the characters are generic and you could probably predict just by watching the trailer who’s going to live and who’s going to die. As I previously discussed, Ayer tries to add moments of witty banter that come off more as tropes from previous war movies. Throughout, the story hits predictable beats that don’t come as more than just that like when the unlikable guy shows a moment of kindness before his death or when the one tank against a large group of soldiers. Technically, the movie is stunning but once you take the people away from the action you are left with what is a very simple, underwritten screenplay that frustratingly lacks the edge of what is happening around it.
A good cast and David Ayers accurate, intense portrayal of war helps him get away with the weak, mediocre script. Fury is the adrenaline of a life or death situation from the perspective of a newly recruited, World War II soldier who is much like us.
Release Date: 10/17/2014
Cast: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal
Directed by: David Ayer
Written by: David Ayer