Film Review – Fury (2014)

“$NAME_OF_FILM” on/in a “$LOCATION_OR_VEHICLE” is a pretty good reductive way to describe some films. Under Siege is Die Hard on a Battleship. The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Starship Mine” was pitched as Die Hard on the Enterprise. The Magnificent Seven is The Seven Samurai in the old west. While it’s reductive, it’s not necessarily bad, nor is it necessarily a derogatory way to describe a film. Thus, don’t take it as a minus when I say that Fury is Das Boot (which I’ve previously reviewed) in a Sherman Tank.

The film follows the crew of the Sherman Tank “Fury” during the waning days of World War 2, as allied forces are making their way into Germany, and the Nazis are becoming more desperate, drafting the Hitler Youth into the SS and otherwise conscripting minors. The crew of the Fury – Commander Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), Gunner Bible (Shia LeBeouf), Driver Gordo (Michael Pena), Loader Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal), and rookie assistant driver/bow gunner Norman (Logan Lerman), spend the majority of the film in and around the tank, aside from a few side scenes, and they dominate the majority of the film’s screen time.

Consequently, the film lives and dies on three factors – how are the performances of the tank crew, how well does the director convey the claustrophobia of being inside the tank, and how are the action scenes shot? The answer to those questions are “Very good”, “Very well”, and “Also very well” respectively.

Pitt pulls off the same “father to his men” acting character that he had in Inglorious Basterds, to such a degree that I almost wonder if Pitt went straight from working on Tarantino’s film to working on this one. LeBeouf’s performance in this film almost makes it clear that if paired with a good director, or with material that he wants to bring a good performance to, he can bring a good performance. The rest of the cast works really well together, with Pena and Lerman, who probably spend the most time together in the film, having the most chemistry. Gordo feels like a character who is the softest hardass in a tank full of hardasses, and who honestly wants Norman to do well under the circumstances, as opposed to the rest of the crew who never particularly stops giving Norman a hard time up until the film’s conclusion.

The tank interiors get across the real sense of claustrophobia that the submarine in Das Boot had. It’s cramped, it’s tight, everyone is in everyone else’s face, which means that if there’s trouble between two people in the crew, it affects everyone, and the way the scenes are shot get that across. Finally, there are the tank battles. The scenes are shot very well, with the action being very easy to follow, and with each of the tank’s being distinguishable through hull painting.

Now, the Das Boot comparison is not limited only to the film’s claustrophobia and how it depicts the minutia of tank operation, but to the film’s tone. This film is gritty as hell, and unlike Das Boot, it’s also very gory – shockingly so. Very early in the film we see a soldier in a tank that has been hit with a panzerfaust emerge, engulfed in flames, and to spare himself the pain of being burned to death, he pulls his pistol and shoots himself in the head – and we see all of this. The film never cuts away. War is brutal, war is bloody, and director David Ayer (who is no stranger to grit with his earlier film Sabotage, which I’ve previously reviewed) doesn’t flinch away from any of it.

That said, I think he goes a little too far. While I enjoy The Matrix, one of the ways that film influenced other filmmakers that I’m not a fan of is the propagation of filters either through actual camera filters or digital grading. Every shot in this film is shot with a blue filter, to get the dark tone across. The thing is, it doesn’t work. It instead undermines the darkness of the material through the cinematographic equivalent of screaming “Hey! Look! I’m Gritty! I’m So Dark And Gritty! Look How Dark I Am!”

The script by Ayer stands on its own, and gets its message across on its own. Having the film shot like it was in a perpetual pre-dawn twilight on an overcast day gains the film nothing. The film does merit one watch – I’m not planning on seeing it again, but I did enjoy the film, of the two Ayer films I’ve seen, it’s the strongest of his filmography.