Another day, another Brad Pitt-killing-Nazis movie—or at least, that’s how one may feel by the end of Fury. Written and directed by David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch), the film reeks of its predecessors. Based on complete fiction, “Fury” is the story of a tank crew, led by Pitt, that fights its way across Germany in the last year of World War II. In picking this historical context, the film relies more on the intense and explicit violence of war than it does on any sense of reality.
The film’s direction commences once Logan Lerman, playing the doe-eyed Norman Ellison, enters the picture. A typist forced into the field of combat, Ellison is immediately thrust into the command of Sergeant Don Collier (Pitt). The tough-guy leader is less than pleased to have Ellison replace his assistant driver, whose heart only stopped beating a few scenes previous. Nonetheless, he takes Ellison, or “Machine” as he is eventually called, under his wing. He teaches him the harsh reality and grit confronted in war. In one of Machine’s first encounters with the battlefield, Collier forces Ellison to execute an SS officer, and when Ellison tells him it isn’t right, he shoves the gun in his hand and pulls the trigger.
Slowly, Ellison integrates into the testosterone-fueled, dirt-covered brotherhood that is the tank crew. This is a stereotypical WWII army crew here, with Shia LaBeouf playing a quiet, yet intense Bible-beater Michael Pena, or “The Sensitive Mexican.” Jon Bernthal is “Coon-Ass,” an over-the-top caricature of a Southern hick. Together, they teach Ellison what it means to be a “man.” They’re with him when he shoots his first victim, they get him laid, and even give him one of his first swigs of alcohol.
Ayer’s story is by no means fresh. The similarities to Saving Private Ryan—perhaps the most famous film depiction of the end of World War II—are difficult to ignore, from the explicit display of violence to the plead for sympathy.
But nothing is overemphasized as much as Pitt’s dialogue. In one scene, Collier tells Ellison, “Ideas are peaceful, history is violent.” In another, he tells his crew, “It will end soon. But before it does, a lot more people gotta die.” After a while, the film loses its authenticity, and all of Pitt’s dialogue becomes little more than cliched one-liners.
Collier’s motives in the film also do not seem to add up. He goes from forcing murder on the conscience of Norman to offering eggs to a young German woman, as if that somehow magically redeems his character. It’s as if Pitt is incapable of playing a flawed character. From Inglorious Basterds (a much more satisfying Nazi-killing drama) to Moneyball, the Millennial Pitt can do no wrong. He not only embraces the hero role in Fury, but he also smothers us with it.
Being in today’s period of film, a more gratifying depiction of women and minorities would be expected. While war movies are almost always heavily dependent on men, Fury lacks a single significant female character. Instead, Ayer uses females to further define the men of the film. The only considerable feminine influence is that of Emma (Alicia von Rittberg), whose only quality seen other than being timid is providing an opportunity for Ellison to lose his virginity.
Perhaps the most affecting part of the film is Ayer’s explicit depiction of violence. From watching heads blown right off the American soldiers to seeing tanks roll over bodies flattened in the mud, there’s an honesty that comes from this horror. Ayer has no reservations, and he forces his audience to acknowledge its existence.
There’s really only so much testosterone and manliness one can take in Fury’s two hours. Eventually, it tests its limits, and not even Pitt’s charm can save it. Generic World War II dramas have been a dime a dozen in the past five or so decades, and Fury is no exception.
Featured Image Courtesy of Columbia Pictures