It has been a few years since we have received a decent World War 2 film. Admittedly, the WW2 film has been done often and thoroughly, some with a lot of success and some missing the mark. A lot of people would agree that Saving Private Ryan (1998) is the standard; equal parts bloody war and equal parts humanity. And a lot of films try to live up to it, not just in theme and character, but the actual structure of the film. Such is the case with Fury. Fury is a great film, with a lot of admirable effort exerted throughout. However, it makes too much homage or reference to the structures that made Saving Private Ryan a success.
After Staff Sargent “Wardaddy” Collier’s assistant tank gunner/driver is killed, he is given Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) as a replacement. Norm does not belong with the squad, having never gone through tank school. He was originally trained to be a typist. The passive soldier is heavily disliked by Wardaddy, gunner Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Loader Travis (Jon Bernthal) and Driver Garcia (Michael Peña), as his green outlook on war gets in the way of the veterans’ brutal and efficient war path. While Norman adjusts to the situation that he can only adapt to, the rest of the crew must prepare for the final days of the war and the march in Germany, where their foes are more fanatical, more desperate and more deadly than ever.
I can’t fault Brad Pitt’s performance. He is such a talented actor and exerts his all. If he isn’t up for an Oscar, I would be surprised. If we compare Jon Bernthal’s work on Fury to that of The Walking Dead, we can plainly see that he was actually restrained when he was fighting zombies. As “Coon-Ass” Travis, Bernthal lets loose. He is a crazy man; intense and terrifying, almost seeming like the villain for a few moments. Michael Peña was the weakest link without a great deal on influence on the plot or film as a whole. Two actors I would love to discuss in more depth are LaBeouf and Lerman. Lerman has been in a couple of films I have reviewed in the past two years. He has been a hit and miss, due in part to being unable to find something thematically deep. He stands to the task in Fury, maturing and developing throughout. Forget watching Pitt, Lerman is a focus and captures the audience from first slip. Finally, my favourite target, LaBeouf. I have one thing, and one thing only to say: I apologize deeply. You are a talented actor.
What frustrated me about the film is that I could too easily relate it to Saving Private Ryan. I wanted to see this film as something different, something separate. However, it continued to dish out scenes that vagrantly and evidently referred to SPR; mysterious squad leader, frightened young soldier and the religious guy. Even though the final scenes of this movie do have their emotional impact, there is still that shadow that lurks over the top of the film. Despite this, Fury is a fantastic film, if a little unoriginal. The characters are engaging and their intriguing development continues throughout, helped along well by Lerman’s acting. Some of the most dramatic scenes don’t even occur in the tank. My favourite is a dinner party after the crew have cleared the town of Germans. The drama here didn’t involve the enemy of the mission, but the resentment between members.
If you can phase out the blatant homage and undertone, you will thoroughly enjoy this movie. Recognizing the talent of LaBeouf and Lerman is part of the film’s journey, and director David Ayer makes sure to underline the importance of both of these actors’ roles. Focusing on a WW2 film, from the inside of a tank is fascinating and thrilling way to take the film. While these guys aren’t as exposed to the enemy (stormtroopers), the inside of this hulk provides some of the more tense moments of this film. I will concede that Fury’s final battle is epic, bloody and emotionally exhausting, especially when you invest some much into these likable characters.
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