In a way Fury feels like a dirty spit in the face of George Clooney’s happy-go-lucky Monuments Men. The film opens to a ghostly fog and smoke covered battlefield, ravaged and war torn. An SS Soldier riding a horse is searching the carnage, presumably for survivors, when Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) leaps from a hiding place atop a nearby tank, launching the rider off of his horse and subsequently stabbing him in the face. It is not a heroic, glorious, or triumphant moment. There is no glory here – only fury.
Roman Vasyanov shoots the entire film superbly, utilizing smoke and fog and grit and grime, creating an ugly atmosphere. Wardaddy’s tank rolls out of this fog and back in to base, the last to survive in the platoon, having lost veteran gunner “Red” in the previous battle. He is replaced by Norman (Logan Lerman), an Army typist, a young man with no combat experience and no desire for war and bloodshed. Norman acts as the audience’s gateway into this Hell, mentored by Wardaddy, and heckled by the rest of the tank crew. Fury follows the tank crew every step of the way through the final days of World War II, and David Ayer superbly focuses it into a character driven atmospheric experience – an impressive feat considering the plentiful action sequences and relatively minimal dialogue.
And boy can he craft an action sequence. Many scenes involve slow rolling tanks, more or less ignoring more frenetic ground warfare in favor of observing the crew in action. Every movement is captured, and Ayer is aided by the entire main cast giving urgency and life to their characters. In between each tense set piece Fury remains visceral, depicting the “little” things with unobtrusive observation, such as a dead body pressed into the mud by a rolling tank, or a pile of corpses being tractor pushed into a hole.
Ayer and Vasyanov shoot those moments with an off-hand mentality, simultaneously building the Hellish immersive world of Fury and reflecting the minds and hearts of its characters. Fury isn’t a terribly original war film, and its characters are not terribly original, but it is executed so sharply – its impact is felt. It is in the eyes of the crew members where the price of war is seen. Wardaddy’s tragic nature is developed primarily by Pitt, given extensive hardened dialogue, his inner humanity revealed through his eyes. War has turned him, and his veteran crew, into something else entirely. Every actor brings his (or her) A-game (a breakfast scene in a captured apartment is particularly effective). The true Don is seen only between the cracks, as with his crew, as he hangs on to his vestigial humanity.
Fury’s themes are nothing new in the war genre but David Ayer, aided by a cast giving it their all, deals with those same themes with the best of them, foregoing sheer originality for convicted, harsh, brutal storytelling. The idea that “War is Hell” has been examined before but rarely has it been executed this effectively.