The American war film often looks at the dynamic in a unit of soldiers, who are forced together by combat. They often address what drives the soldiers, whether it be through intense training, patriotism, hatred of the enemy or love and respect for their fellow men. Fury uses a bit of everything when it looks at the comradeship in a tank unit led by Don Collier (Brad Pitt). Yet Fury feels uneven and lacking direction and not really sure of what it’s trying to say. On one hand, the battle scenes are bloody, intense and suspenseful but on the other, it seems director David Ayer is trying to make some deeper point about warfare that gets lost amidst the gunfire.
Ayer takes the risky decision to have no real goal in Fury for the soldiers. With hindsight, April 1945 when it is set, must mean that the war is about to end, but the tank unit just keeps trundling on through Germany, encountering feverish resistant from the last remaining Nazis. The result is that Fury becomes a series of vignettes with little underlying storyline. Normally, there is a clear aim for the soldiers of war films; take this island, save this man, transport these prisoners or whatever it is, but Fury prefers to concentrate on what war turns men into.
The action is filtered through the eyes of Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) who joins the tank crew as an assistant driver with only eight weeks experience. Meeting the gnarled and scarred crew, Norman initially struggles to kill the enemy, which leads to the endangerment of those around him, so Collier forces him to shoot a German prisoner to roughen him up. Characters like Norman are placed in war films far too often. The idea that war corrupts the innocent is as old as Sun Tzu and the audience knows exactly how Norman is going to change in the course of the movie. And the dynamic between the old and new soldier is so well-worn that all the conversations they have could probably be lifted out of a dozen other war movies. And though the character is poorly written, Logan Lerman still does an inept job of it. With drama school tears and an expression etched on his face like he’s constipated, he is nowhere near the level of actor you would expect for this big a film.
Fury’s main problem is that it is studying war and the effects of war with absolutely no originality. The soldiers discuss how faith and religion is incompatible with what they’ve seen and how their comradeship has developed at a time of peril but it’s all been done before. Ayer, who also wrote the script, drags most scenes on for too long with ineffectual conversation and pondering over meaning, so the whole thing becomes rather self-indulgent. What Fury does well is its sound design (which should win an Oscar) and its occasional moments of great suspense. When Norman hears the SS singing German songs in the distance, it is undeniably chilling, but these moments are few and far between.
And considering Fury seems to have a not too subtle anti-war message, I found the final scene to be rather confusing. Instead of fleeing, the crew chooses to stay and face certain death from a large number of Germans. This has to be sheer patriotism. It must be or it wouldn’t make sense. There’s comradeship in warfare, sure, but that doesn’t mean they need to fight an unwinnable battle for each other when they could easily have saved all their lives. The message does not fit with this final, bloody scene, which resembles more of a Jean Claude Van-Damme movie than a serious study of the effects of war. And this is Fury’s problem to a tee. It has no idea how to marry entertaining war scenes with the madness of war message it is trying to get across. In the end, Fury is unoriginal, rudderless and a tired attempt at the World War Two film.