War is hell. This axiom is the fulcrum that leverages the plot of Fury, the story of an American WWII tank crew led by Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt).
Out-gunned and out-armoured by the Nazi tanks, Wardaddy guides his men and their tank (the eponymous Fury) through the charnel house that is the Allied push towards Berlin. “The devil takes care of his own,” says Wardaddy upon returning to camp much to the surprise of those who’d thought him and his crew dead. It is not an off-the-cuff remark — he embraces the darkness inside him (that is inside us all) and uses it to keep him and his crew alive.
The unspoken truth Fury tries to communicate is that war (even when necessary) is immoral because of the crimes against conscience it forces men to commit — crimes into which Wardaddy tries to initiate his new tank driver, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who is literally a loaner from the steno pool. The violence in the film is graphic and direct, and it doesn’t flinch away from sullying the burnish of the so-called “Greatest Generation.”
I appreciated the lack of hero worship and the attempt to take narratives about the devolution of decency most familiar to films about the Vietnam War and placing them in the context of a “good” war. A good war: there is no such thing.
There are definite echoes of All Quiet on the Western Front in Fury, but the visceral hatred we all have been rightly conditioned to have for the Nazis makes the nuances hard to capture. And in that way Fury works a bit better because our approval of the cruelty and the war crimes makes us complicit.
Fury is well-written and competently-directed, but I think Brad Pitt was miscast. For the film to really work, we have to see something behind Wardaddy’s eyes that frightens us. His struggle to keep it together is the source of the tension (all the explosions and gunfire notwithstanding), but Brad Pitt just can’t take us to that dark place. The moments when Wardaddy comes unhinged aren’t quite false notes, but they don’t really ring true either and that’s what lets the film down.
Shia LeBoeuf’s Boyd “Bible” Swan, a scripture-quoting Southern Baptist, is surprisingly the best performance in the film. The other supporting performances are good, but the heart of the film is Wardaddy, and it required an actor who could pick up the entire production and carry it on his shoulders, and Brad Pitt just wasn’t able to do the extremely heavy lifting in this case. More’s the pity, because Fury needed that central performance to be truly excellent in order for it to meet its full potential. There’s an extra gear they just couldn’t quite shift into. I did really enjoy the film, though, and there’s still enough there for me to recommend it.