Tanks for the memories

"But … what would Lee Marvin do?"

"But … what would Lee Marvin do?"

Rated 4.0

Right in time for Halloween, writer-director David Ayer has come up with a genuine horror show in Fury, his take on a World War II tank crew trying to survive in the last days of the war.

This film goes full bore in showing the horrors of war, with its very first scene depicting a brutal act of violence that shows Ayer is not playing games. His intentions are to show the effects of war on a group of men who are clinging to the last threads of sanity after years of claustrophobic, blood-soaked terror inside a tank.

Brad Pitt leads the crew as Don “Wardaddy” Collier, a grizzled, scarred up individual resorting to arguably insane behavior as he treks across Nazi Germany. When he’s saddled with new recruit Norman (Logan Lerman), his behavior becomes a strange mix of paternal and completely unhinged.

Other members of the crew include Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal). It’s arguable that Ayer created each of these characters as stereotypical odes to the John Wayne war movies of yore. However, that’s where the common thread to bravado-filled old timey war movies ends. While the word “cliché” might pop to mind looking at the description of these characters, be assured there is nothing clichéd about the way they are portrayed.

Much of the film takes place inside the tank, with a few breaks, most notably a scene when Wardaddy introduces Logan to a nice German girl while he has some eggs. The carnage in the battle scenes is unrelenting. A sequence where a group of U.S. tanks go up against a superior German tank is as harrowing as moviemaking gets.

It all builds up to a final sequence where the tank breaks down, and Wardaddy decides he isn’t going to run away from a large group of enemy soldiers approaching. This comes off as somewhat of a suicide mission, with the crew deciding to fight it out alongside their leader. I have to believe that many allied soldiers made similar decisions in taking the Nazis down 70 years ago. Not every battle was planned, and the odds were often stacked against them.

Ayer presents a scenario that’s crazy, but perhaps realistic in many ways. No movie could authentically depict the horror that men like those portrayed in this film went through. Ayer and company go to great lengths to show when a nightmare goes well beyond nightmare into something altogether hellish. This is something World War II soldiers went through every day, every minute.

Pitt is just a few degrees removed from his Aldo Raine from Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. It’s as if Aldo finished scalping Christoph Waltz, shaved his mustache, and joined a tank battalion. The Aldo comparison is mostly aesthetic and comes across in the accent Pitt employs. Wardaddy is totally lacking in humor. It’s a powerful characterization from an actor who rarely missteps.

The tabloids have had a field day with the weird stuff LaBeouf did while making this movie: pulling out his tooth, Nicolas Cage style, refusing to shower and just acting super strange in general. Whatever weirdness he put cast and crew through results in his best screen work to date. As the preacher amongst the crew, LaBeouf is actually quite moving as a man who keeps his faith and finds immense joy in reciting scripture. This performance gives him a chance to get his once promising career back on track.

Pena, who worked with Ayer before on End of Watch, is terrific, as usual, as are Lerman and Bernthal. Bernthal, like Pitt, calls upon a past character—the jerk he played on The Walking Dead—for inspiration.

Stay away from Fury if you can’t handle onscreen gore. As stated above, this one is quite vicious right out of the gate and straight through its entire two-hour-plus running time. As action films go, it’s a real winner. As war films go, it’s one to be remembered. As horror films go, I doubt you’ll see anything scarier this month.