Though it could easily have become a vanity project about war (think: last year’s less-than-compelling Monuments Men) for its marquee star, Brad Pitt, this is, instead a seemingly “small” story about five guys trying to stay alive amid brutally harsh conditions and incredibly close quarters. And, though there’s certainly enough blood-splattered spectacle to keep the most die-hard war-movie fanatics satisfied, it’s kind of a slice-of-life movie – and the whole thing works because of the top-notch performances of its cast.
Pitt stars as Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a seasoned and battle-scarred platoon leader renowned by his peers for his expertise, and respected and revered by the handful of surviving soldiers under his command. The latter group consists of born-again gunner Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), rough-and-tumble loader Grady (Jon Bernthal), and über-loyal driver Gordo (Michael Peña). After their assistant driver is killed, the reluctant group is suddenly handed a replacement: Army typist Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) – who’s never seen the inside of a tank, let alone combat, and through whose eyes the audience experiences the horrors of war.
And, as the tank crew makes it way across the German countryside, there are horrors. Plenty of them. The film opens with Pitt stabbing an enemy soldier to death, and the body count just escalates from there with each passing scene. In many instances, Fury presents jaw-droppingly realistic deaths and incredibly gruesome demises – from limbs and heads being shot clear off, to a soldier quite believably crushed to death when a tank drives right over him. It’s not a film for the squeamish... but, then again, neither is war.
The filmmakers pull no punches, and the proceedings are, like the subjects onscreen, drenched in hardship, filth, pain and sadness... but, thankfully, peppered with wonderful (if few in number) moments of friendship, camaraderie and even the faintest hints of relief. A sequence involving Collier and Ellison attempting to carve out a few minutes of normalcy amid the chaos is especially strong.
All five of the actors are terrific and create a solid, believably bonded group about whom an audience will care (which is key in this kind of film), with Logan and LaBeouf the clear standouts. The former is wonderfully naive and open at the outset, and does an excellent job of conveying – often subtly – his character’s necessary-given-the-circumstances evolution from terrified, tearful newbie to Nazi-killing machine. And LaBeouf has, quite literally, never been better. He is astoundingly good and, though maligned for some of his more extreme Method tactics, he more than proves his chops as an actor here.
It’s hard to say, “Oooh! You must go see Fury!”, because it’s not really a feel-good film or a crowd-pleaser that would make most movie fans rush to the multiplex. But it’s an incredibly authentic look at brotherhood during wartime, and the power of the survival instinct, and will no doubt land on some ballots come awards season.