War, you may have heard, is hell. War, as portrayed in Hollywood movies, can often stray into the realm of the absurd. Case in point: “Fury.”
The picture starts promisingly enough, opening on a smoky hellscape of shattered armored vehicles, flames and corpses lying broken on shell-gouged earth beneath oppressive gray skies. No glory here. Just devastation as far as director of photography Roman Vasyanov’s camera can see.
Emerging suddenly from a seemingly wrecked tank and quickly dispatching an unsuspecting Nazi officer is Brad Pitt. Playing a tank commander named Wardaddy, he gives one of his best and toughest performances as a man with the baleful, bone-weary stare of a warrior who has seen way too much and forgotten far too little.
Wardaddy is the spiritual brother of Pitt’s remorseless Lt. Aldo Raine from “Inglourious Basterds.” Like Raine, Wardaddy is in the Nazi-killing business, and in “Fury,” as in “Basterds,” business is good.
The time is 1945 and Wardaddy’s Sherman tank, dubbed Fury (its name daubed in paint on the barrel of its main gun), is grinding through Germany with the 2nd Armored Division in the waning days of World War II.
Writer-director-producer David Ayer (“End of Watch”) has one main message he wants to put across: Gen. Sherman’s terse “war is hell” aphorism.
The picture’s bleakly impressive visuals, courtesy of Vasyanov and production designer Andrew Menzies, along with Pitt’s grim reaper performance, effectively depict a hell of mud, blood, exhaustion, brutality and fear. But Ayer’s writing and “Fury’s” characterizations pound his message home with all the finesse of a pile driver.
The five-man tank crew is a collection of all-too-familiar war-movie stereotypes. In addition to Pitt’s grizzled warrior, there is a Bible-quoting religious fanatic (Shia LaBeouf); a loutish brute (Jon Bernthal); a token ethnic guy, in this case a Latino (Michael Peña); and, most significantly, a fresh-faced kid. Played by Logan Lerman, he represents the picture’s conscience; he is literally sickened by war. Vomiting, weeping, reluctant to pull the trigger, he earns the scorn of his crewmates until he finally mans up and gets with the program, pulling the trigger with demented gusto and shrieking obscenities as he does so.
The picture truly goes off the rails at the midpoint in a bizarre scene in which the kid and Wardaddy encounter a pair of German women (Alicia von Rittberg and Anamaria Marinca), a scene that includes a contrived romantic interlude between the virginal American kid and the sweet-faced (and apparently also virginal) younger woman (von Rittberg). Young love amid the carnage! Thus does Ayer clumsily seek to humanize his characters.
Also in the scene, Pitt sheds his shirt and displays his toned abs for no logical reason. Thus does Ayer succumb to the temptation to give audiences some big-star eye candy. Ab-surd.
Everything spirals downhill from there to a climactic battle scene that strains credulity in every aspect. For example, when devastation wrought by two grenades dropped into a tank turret turns out to be significantly less than devastating, “Fury” surrenders all connection to anything resembling reality.