War never ends quietly. So goes the poster tagline for David Ayer’s rattling, clanking, rumbling, roaring, belching World War 2 movie Fury, a loud, visceral, strangely unaffecting piece of cinema that‘s almost as mechanical as the war machine at it’s heart.

It’s April 1945, the fag end of the war (Hitler killed himself at the end of the month), and the U.S. Army is pushing deep into the heart of a desperate, war-ravaged Germany. When one of his men is killed in action, a bureaucratic error places young, inexperienced, rookie soldier Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) on the crew of grizzled veteran Sgt. Don “Wardaddy’ Collier (Brad Pitt), commander of the battered Sherman tank nicknamed ‘Fury’. An Army clerk whose only skill is his ability to type 60 words-per-minute (so, not even a particularly good typist then…), Norman is ill-equipped for the violence and brutality of war but Wardaddy and his battle-hardened crew will make a man of him even if it kills him and his blooding comes when the crew of the Fury are sent on a last-ditch suicide mission to defend a strategic crossroads. Outnumbered and outgunned, forced to battle alone, Wardaddy and his men must make a desperate last stand against overwhelming odds to halt a superior Nazi counter attack…

“Ideals are peaceful. History is violent,” Brad Pitt’s borderline psychotic, melancholy surrogate father-figure (it’s even in his name, Wardaddy) tells Logan Lerman’s fresh-faced rookie right before he gets him laid by a nice, clean, young disposable fräulein (Alicia von Rittberg) whose favours are purchased for the price of a couple of eggs. Yup, war is indeed Hell but, despite Fury’s macho, muddy, blood-and-guts, splatterporn aesthetic, it’s worth remembering that writer/director David Ayer also penned the risible U-571. History may be violent but, despite its nods towards realism (lynched civilians swinging from lampposts, ruined villages, scorched earth battlefields and children press-ganged into combat), brothers and sisters, Fury isn’t history; it’s an old-fashioned, by-the-numbers Men-On-A-Mission war flick, a po-faced, humourless descendant of Where Eagles Dare or The Dirty Dozen that strives for the violent poetry of Peckinpah’s Cross Of Iron but falls rather closer to the vicious schmaltz of Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, a throwback to the last time when America was involved in an intellectually, morally and politically unambiguous conflict; killing Krauts being far more acceptable to an audience than the more troublesome imperialistic implications of killing insurgents.

So, Pitt’s Wardaddy, despite his Dalston Hipster Twat haircut and bloodthirsty tendency to commit war crimes, is equal parts every tough sergeant Aldo Ray ever played with a generous scoop of Lee Marvin in The Big Red One and a tortured surface sprinkling of the burnt-out cases essayed by James Coburn in Cross Of Iron or Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan. Logan Lerman is every fresh-faced rookie, every cinematic FNG, who must learn the rites of Manhood through baptism in the fires of War, a journey little different than that of young Henry Fleming in Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge Of Courage. The rest of the crew are a selection of the usual suspects; there’s the Gospel-greedy one (Shia LaBeouf), the loudmouthed, bullying redneck (Jon Bernthal) and the ethnic one (Michael Pena). The enemy are faceless stormtroopers to be mown down by Pitt’s Sgt. Rock and his band of G.I. Joes.

For a movie about a tank, there’s remarkably little tank-on-tank action; just one skirmish where Pitt’s platoon is almost wiped out by a sole, superior German tank. The Fury never becomes a character in the way the tank in Israeli war movie Lebanon does or the submarine in Das Boot. There’s no real sense of claustrophobia, the crew spending far too much time out in the fresh air rather than the dank, rattling gloom for it to feel either like a place of threat or of safety, the protagonists even popping in and out in the midst of a firefight to scavenge ammunition. And just what kind of grizzled warrior leaves their spare bullets outside the womblike safety of their perfectly good tank in the middle of a battle anyway?

Fury’s a cartoon, a comic book war movie for the Saw generation with the depth of a Commando comic. Heads are blown off, men burn alive, limbs are sawn off by machine gun fire. Lerman’s first job on joining the tank crew is to sponge the remains of his predecessor’s face off his seat. Bodies are mashed into the soupy mud. The violence is nasty and it’s leering and it’s voyeuristic, the action scenes intense and furious but uninvolving. God may be in the details, the weapons and uniforms and deficiencies of the hardware may be well researched, but it’s hard to care about Ayer’s 2D stereotypes. Why should we? Ayer obviously doesn’t, being far more interested in the fetishisation of war than in creating believable, relatable, likeable characters. It’s little wonder then that Shia LaBeouf went to the lengths of stabbing himself repeatedly in the face for the length of the shoot in order to find his character; it obviously wasn’t on the page.

War never ends quietly. There’s plenty of sound in Fury but it mostly signifies nothing.

Movie Review: Fury
A cartoon, comic-book war movie with a real nasty streak
3.0Overall Score
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