Fury is both the name of the movie and an M4 Sherman tank that’s home to a dysfunctional family of US Army soldiers. To set the stage, it’s April of 1945 – the last month of the War in Europe — and Hitler’s armies have been shattered on the Western front. The Nazis have been reduced to using children and women to defend their murderous regime. The Third Reich is being (literally) crushed under the treads of American tanks. Resistance, especially from the SS and the Hitler Youth, is fanatical as the Nazis defend their own land. And here’s the first of several spoilers: the Allies win! . . .
Brad Pitt is Sgt. Don Collier, Fury’s commander. His nom de guerre is Wardaddy, and he’s very much the stern, authoritative father figure of his crew. Think “Sergeant Stryker” and you’re in the ballpark, except Stryker had a far superior haircut.
Wardaddy eventually leads Fury through a multi-tank battle with a German Tiger tank, and later to a final showdown at a crossroads that, like every crossroads in every war movie ever made, simply must be held at all costs. But first, there’s time for a little wartime hanky panky with a German auntie and her comely niece, played by Alicia von Rittberg. It’s fortunate that every German fraulein didn’t look like Alicia, or the Allied drive through Germany might have stalled somewhere west of Cologne.
The mood of Fury, and the principal photography, is brooding and somber from start to finish. War is hell, a life at war is nasty, brutish and short and above all, the lighting sucks . . . all of which is true. War is also scary, and director David Ayer does his best to make the audience sense that fear by building tension in the claustrophobic tank. Ayer succeeds so well that when the visceral, powerful battle scenes finally arrive, they provide an almost cathartic relief. Prostate sufferers take note – “go” before the fighting starts, because you won’t want to leave.
The fighting scenes are intimate, brutal, extremely violent and extraordinarily exciting. In the style of “Saving Private Ryan,” there are no compromises in Fury. The gory details are just that, gory. A nation attuned to “The Walking Dead,” with its splattering brains, decapitations and decomposing corpses, will not be disappointed in Fury. Hey, this is a war movie, not “Jersey Boys.” There’s gonna be blood.
Fury is not Patton. Patton was a dazzlingly entertaining movie, but consistent with its main character, it was jingoistic and glorified war. The battle scenes were relatively sterile, with few heads popping off or dangling limbs. There’s no such glorification or sanitization to be seen in Fury.
Still, Fury is no “Thin Red Line.” There’s no insanity here among the US soldiers. Nobody is fighting for promotion or because they were unfulfilled shoe salesmen before the outbreak of hostilities. The crew of the tank knows why it’s fighting and who it’s fighting for. The men are fighting for each other. They are fighting to win, whatever that entails. They are fighting to live. Okay, maybe they’re also fighting for an Oscar nomination, but that’s not the point.
Unlike “Red Line” or “Letters from Iwo Jima,” Fury shows no sympathy to the enemy soldaten. Fury cares very little for the Heer – they are fighting for evil — and even less for the hateful SS, who are evil incarnate. “They’re the ones who started this war,” says one of the Fury crew about the SS. Regular German soldiers can be spared if they stop fighting, otherwise they will get snuffed by the truckload and dumped into mass graves. The SS, however, must be killed, preferably one at a time, for the evil they’ve done, whether they continue to fight or not.
Pitt, who has a tendency to underact everything, manages to stop trying to channel his inner Gregory Peck just this once. In almost every Pitt film, I end up thinking “for god’s sake, man, yell or something!” Here, Pitt shows some anger, and he actually raises his voice once or twice. This is Pitt’s second film foray into the killing Nazi business, and his best. And when he takes off his shirt, Wardaddy is totally buffed, proving that no matter how busy you are killing Nazis, there’s always time for a brisk workout.
Pitt dominates this film. That’s really saying something because the rest of the cast is so good. Watching Shia LaBeouf’s outstanding performance might make people forget “Transformers.” Okay, that would be impossible, but he’s still terrific.
Jon Bernthal (who was bumped off by Rick Grimes in “The Walking Dead,” only to return as a hillbilly halfass with a bad attitude in Fury) Michael Peña (a Mexican-American cast against type as, of all things, a Mexican-American) and Logan Lerman as Norman are exceptional. The quality of acting runs very deep in Fury, right down to a brief supporting role by Scott Eastwood. Hey, isn’t his dad an actor or something?
Also exceptional was the director’s technical accuracy. The weaponry is pretty much what soldiers would have used on the ETO battlefield in 1945. There are lots of M1 Garands and Browning M1918A2s, as expected. Several M1 Carbines can be seen, all of which lacked the bayonet lug that eventually became a permanent part of the little carbine. Because everybody with a tiny little rifle wants to stick a tiny little knife on the end.
Fury likewise is fitted out with the correct complement of machine guns, including .30 caliber Browning M1919A4s and a .50 caliber Browning M2HB, and the “new” 76mm cannon with the muzzle brake, which was a big improvement over the original naked 75mm.
The tankers are also seen using a Colt M1911A1, an M1A1 Thompson and couple of M3A1 Grease Guns which they deploy when they leave the close confines of Fury to snag some women, grab a bite to eat or take a dump. The latter is about the only human function not depicted in this film, although it is mentioned.
The Germans carry their Mauser K98ks, MP40s, Sturmgewehr 44s and Hitler’s Buzz Saw, the devilish MG 42. They also do serious damage with their Panzerfausts. The Tiger tank featured in the film is real, and might be the last functional Tiger 1 left in the world unless Paul Allen owns one.
The most interesting firearm is the M1917 revolver carried by Wardaddy in his shoulder holster. It’s probably a Smith & Wesson rather than the Colt version, and sports handsome custom grips. The M1917 was chambered in .45ACP and loaded with or without half-moon clips. Those revolvers were phased out after WWI in favor of the M1911, but could still be found doing duty during WW2. Interesting, although it was a double action revolver, Wardaddy fired his M1917 exclusively single action, and every German he shot with it was instantly vaporized into a fine red mist. So what they say about the .45ACP must be true.
Fury opened on October 17 to odd reviews. Viewers overwhelming like it, most critics think it’s a powerful war movie, but a very few critics, mostly skinny jeans wearing metrosexuals and other low-T types, think the movie is yucky and gross and yearn for a remake of “The Notebook.”
Fury steals many tropes from “Saving Private Ryan,” and then turns some of them upside down. It’s not much of a stretch to think that somebody connected with Fury watched “Ryan” on Netflix and then thought, “Gee, what a great idea for a movie!”
In “Ryan,” a young, untrained soldier named Upham is assigned to the mission. After Tom Hanks’ squad is ambushed and its medic killed, a German bushwacker tries to surrender. Upham persuades the squad to let the German go instead of killing him on the spot. Big mistake. The same German subsequently attacks the squad. Lesson learned — after the German surrenders again, Upham executes his ass.
Fury’s young, untrained soldier is named Norman, which on the manly name scale is one step up from Bruce. Or Ralph. On his first mission with Wardaddy, Norman fails to shoot a young German soldier. Big mistake. The German ambushes and blows up the lead American tank and kills the tankers aboard. The German is then gunned down by Fury’s crew, who heap abuse on Norman for being such a pansy. Shortly thereafter, Wardaddy forces Norman to man up and execute a pleading German soldier for the sin of wearing a GI coat. At the end of the movie, the tables are turned as Norman is discovered hiding by a young German soldier. He silently pleads with the young SS dude, and the German does not reveal Norman to his SS pals. Norman is spared. Lesson learned – but it’s not Upham’s lesson.
There’s more. Tom Hanks’ Captain Miller has an interesting backstory (school teacher), as does most of his squad; Wardaddy has no backstory and there’s little talk about what any of the Fury crew did before the war. In fact, they mostly use their “war names” – Wardaddy, Bible, Coon-Ass and Gordo. Norman becomes Machine. They have no other identity.
At the end of “Ryan,” the good guys defend against bad guys in a tank; in Fury, the bad guys attack against the good guys in the tank. In “Ryan,” the team is ordered on a mission that most of them think is suicidal, risking their own lives to pull one guy off the line. In Fury, the team willingly (if reluctantly) volunteers for a mission that most of them think is suicidal, risking their own lives to hold the crossroads against an SS battalion to save the GIs behind them. Pitt looks great with his shirt off. I wouldn’t want to see Tom Hanks with his shirt off.
See what I mean? The list of contradictions goes on. In some ways, Fury and “Ryan” are polar opposites, or maybe mirror images.
The most shocking thing about Fury – balls-to-bone a Hollywood war movie if there ever was one – is an abundance of Christian symbolism. This symbolism isn’t accidental, like Coppola’s oranges in “The Godfather.” This is intentional. Frankly, this is the most religious movie since “Going My Way,” with the possible exception of “Passion of the Christ.”
The final, mind-blowing scene features an eerie and revealing overhead shot of the crossroads, littered with dozens of dead bodies surrounding what appears for all intents and purposes to be a large crucifix spanning the screen. I was speechless. Then I remembered that the last scene in “Ryan” also featured a crucifix. A lot of them in fact. And a few Stars of David, too. You tend to find such things in Army cemeteries.
Here’s the long and short of it: Fury is probably the best Hollywood WW2 movie since “Saving Private Ryan.” It has courage. It has heart. It is intentionally upsetting. It has unrelenting battle scenes that will have you on the edge of your seat and more than slightly repulsed at the carnage. It has an underlying message of resistance to evil, devotion to faith and ethics that viewers can accept or ignore. The film works as Grand Guignol just as well as it works as a religious statement.
Fury left me deeply moved and more admiring than ever of the Greatest Generation. More than anything, it left me shaking my head about the nation we have become, and how we became such a pale imitation of what we once were.
Caliber: .50BMG and 76MM AP
Length: 134 minutes
Action: The battle scenes are literally incendiary
Price: $68 million and worth every penny
RATINGS (out of five bullets):
Style * * * * *
The battle scenes were graphic and not for the faint of heart. For once, a Hollywood director actually gets the weaponry right. His history is a bit off, though. For example, despite what the movie claims, Hitler did not declare “total war” in 1945. It was declared by Goebbels in 1943 at his infamous Sportpalast speech. Yes, that’s a nitpick. The battle tactics used against the Tiger were not appropriate for an up-gunned M4 but entirely appropriate for the weaker 75mm version. The white horse that opens and closes this film is classic symbolism. Even the final credits are symbolic.
Reliability * * * *
Don’t let the initial pace faze you. Once Fury gets rolling, it’s hard to stop it. Well, it’s a tank, after all. This is very much an actors’ movie, and the cast delivers one top performance after another. It’s hard not to care about the characters, even Jon Bernthal who starts out as a dick and then drops his pretense and shows his human side. The ending is predictable, but only because it’s the only ending that would make any sense. The dialog won’t win any awards.
OVERALL RATING * * * * 1/2
Fury stands among the best American WW2 movies of this generation, and certainly the best since “Saving Private Ryan.” Anyone who liked “Ryan” will probably like this film too.