(David Ayer, 2014)
Fury is, at heart, an old-fashioned b-movie. It follows a young clerk (Logan Lerman) in the last months of the Second World War as the US Army moves into Germany. Reassigned to the Sherman tank commanded by a tough, enigmatic sergeant called Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) as a replacement for a gunner killed in their last, terrible firefight, the clerk - given the distinctly un-macho name "Norman" - has to grow up fast, learn to fight, and also fit into the tight crew of brothers who have lived inside "Fury" and under Wardaddy since they were in North Africa. These hardened, cynical, traumatised men include Shia Lebouef's born again Christian, Jon Bernthal's animalistic mechanic, and Michael Pena's stoic driver, bickering and joking their way through battles and downtime.
Ayer handles the battles very well. Though the film is composed almost exclusively of cliches familiar from more or less every other war film you've ever seen, it is handsome, epic and visceral. The tale may be familiar but this kind of thing hasn't been done all that often in the years since Saving Private Ryan showed how modern sensibilities would effect the way we make and watch war movies. So whilst Ayer undoubtedly glories in the adrenalised spectacle of violence here - in battle scenes that are generally coherent and impactful - his overall statement (and this is very much a film intent on making a statement, pumped up on its own seriousness and pomposity, with its cloyingly emotive Steven Price score and its stately Roman Vasayanov photography a symphony of browns, greys and greens, the usual colours of the European theatre of war) is that war is, well, hell, an unnatural crucible of terror and pain.
But the main constant in Ayer's work has been an appreciation for the pleasures of camaraderie and brotherhood, and here that colours his antiwar impulses; war may indeed be hell, he seems to say, but at least it makes men of boys and forges friendships deeper than any other emotional bond.
His film is accordingly at its best when these men are swapping insults and arguments, though a draggy mid-section interlude in a captured German town feels like an indulgent error, sapping the drama of some of its otherwise impressive dread.
It works for the most part. These cliches are cliches because they work so well, and Ayer and company deliver them well enough. The principals are all good, the action is exciting, the deaths as moving as they need to be. For a b-movie that wants desperately to be an a-movie, it works.