A young clerk-typist called Norman (Logan Lerman) joins a Sherman tank crew, replacing one of the gunners, recently killed. In fact, Norman’s first task is to wash out the remains of his predecessor from the seat he will occupy on the tank. It is April 1945. The Allied forces have pushed all the way into Germany. Norman is part of the 66th Armor Regiment, 2nd Armored Division. There are five men in Norman’s crew. They have nicknamed their tank “Fury”. Their leader is Staff Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt). He advises Norman not to get too close to anyone. The rest of the crew are unflinchingly loyal to Wardaddy because he has kept them alive since the North Africa campaign. They have criss-crossed Europe in battle after battle. They resent Norman as a newcomer who has no training other than the sixty-words a minute he can type.
Norman is the American counterpart to the young boys and old men the Allies are encountering as they travel further into Germany. Anyone aged between 18 and 50 has been pressed into service long ago. A sense of exhaustion and defeat is in the air, but sometimes the Allies encounter units who are still desperate to fight to the death, rather than surrender. The end of the war seems close, but there is no certainty that Fury’s crew will live to see it.
In some ways FURY resembles old films like MERRIL’S MARAUDERS (1961), THE GUNS OF NAVARONE (1961) and THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967) because it’s a war time adventure; Americans killing Nazis just like in Fightin’ Army comics. However with its bloodier sense of realism and subtle referencing of bigger themes, it is also informed by the novel CATCH 22 (1961), the television series BAND OF BROTHERS (2001) and the movies DAS BOOT (1980), THE THIN RED LINE (1998) and SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998).
The crew of Fury are concerned that Norman’s inexperience will get them killed. Wardaddy takes it upon himself to toughen up the boy. From hour to hour, Norman faces the reality of brutal death and constant fear. The tank veterans have been prepared to die for years. In Norman’s eyes these men are toughened, callous and have forfeited some of their humanity. This comes to the fore when Wardaddy and Norman spend some hours in a small German village with two women. The situation grows tense when the other crew members turn up. These men have forgotten how to be part of normal society.
The end of World War II is seventy years back in history. The few surviving soldiers are in their nineties. The audience for FURY will know the war through family anecdotes, books, documentaries and the aforementioned movies. The era is within living memory, but has ceased to be part of most people’s first-hand experience. Writer-Director David Ayer has created a war movie that ingeniously treads the tightrope between the old and the new. There’s enough action and adventure to please the patriotic, shoot-em-up crowd but also enough disturbing moments for those looking for a criticism of war. It’s precisely this balanced approach that prevents FURY from achieving excellence. It’s an expensively-mounted, excellently shot World War II movie that has no larger point to make.
Ayer writes and directs movies about men and their reactions under fire. He is a former submariner and his stories focus on the services or the police. His last feature END OF WATCH had a similar you-are-there feel, but was infused with a contemporary sense of detail and relevance that made it more compelling. FURY is straight down the line entertaining and it will push up your heart rate as you watch the Sherman tanks take on the technologically superior Tigers. All the performances are solid and the much maligned “not famous anymore” Shia LaBeouf is excellent in the role of scripture-quoting Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan.
FURY is in Australian cinemas in wide release. It runs for 134 minutes. I rate it a 7/10.