Fury does its best to parse through these many threads knotted around such inhumanity. Predictable realities abut with poetic moments, but as with so much war making, it’s difficult to declare a winner.
Fury is cut from the same cloth as Play Dirty and Band of Brothers. With an open eye cast on the complicated legacy of the Greatest Generation’s Greatest Moment, Fury revels in grit and grime. WWII films used to have a nasty habit of being too tidy in the wake of V-Day, but as the years have peeled back, a more thorough examination of the horrors of war have been taken into account.
Not to say WWII wasn’t a noble charge, or a ‘necessary’ war, but the carnage of any war is only truly known by the participants. Pestilence and death roll through cities and towns, and the immensity of a total war like WWII is impossible to comprehend. Films like Fury and its ilk do their best to capture the brute profundity of it all.
Insomuch, Fury is brutish. Bloodied and disemboweled, the movie never veers too far from the moon like hellscape of bombed out battlefields. Trucks full of dead, medical tents teeming with wounded, the living caked in mud and misery, Fury doesn’t go for the kid glove treatment.
Every bit a David Ayer’s film, Fury further solidifies his credentials as an auteur. Ayer knows atmosphere, and his ability to create an absorbing tone is the picture’s biggest asset. It’s uncanny how often films forget what they are or step outside themselves, but Ayer keeps Fury on the level. A grim, visceral level.
If the story maintained the same discipline, Fury could easily work its way into a different stratum, but horseshoes and hand grenades and mediocrity and whatnot. Fury isn't a mediocre film, but it grades out toward the median. If you could single out the sublime moments, you'd be certain it was a war film of distinction. If you saw a separate version isolating the scenes of abject war movie sameness, you'd think it was a war movie trope awareness video.
Ayer has an uncanny ability to balance lyricism, serenity, and tension in his best scenes. His emptiest moments seem almost adamant in their predictability. The scorecard reflects a split decision, but the true, perplexing tale of the tape is a collection of gripping sequences dragged down by the weight of surrounding banalities.
The strongest and, somewhat unexpected strengths of the film are the acting and, to a greater extent, the relationships. You expect a certain competence from Pitt, but the supporting cast is stellar. Shia LaBeouf gives an understated, thoughtful turn as the Christ-loving gunner Bible. Michael Pena, who never strays too far from himself, brings his frank and glib candor to Gordo.
My favorite individual performance goes to Jon Bernthal of Walking Dead fame. Where his range seems limited, perhaps due to typecasting, he fully illuminates every crag of the beastly Grady Travis. Fragile, ugly, cruel, traumatized, Bernthal travels the length from snarl to whisper. Another great character who might get overlooked is Fury, the tank. An actual WWII Tiger tank, its role as womb and warrior creates it’s own unique connection with the audience.
The relationships in war films typically skew towards brothers-in-arms. Fury certainly emphasizes the intimacy and shared experiences of these soldiers, but also highlights that war is very much an occupation. You don’t always choose your coworkers, and you certainly don’t have to like them, but the power of a common goal creates it’s own gravity. Especially when the common goal is nothing more or less solipsistic than survival. And where their rallying cry could be a cry of brotherhood, America, or liberty, instead they opt for the simple refrain, “best job I ever had.”
Fury, as a whole, doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself from other well made WWII films. But when celebrated for its triumphs, elevated pockets of chaos and beauty alike, Fury merits a conversation. As the tagline reads, “War never ends quietly.” Fury’s successes lie in the quiet moments, those unexpected bits where humanity stumbles into the gaping chasm left by the horrors of war.