The easiest way to win over an audience when dealing with the military is to focus so much on the bravado of the participants that you can feel the breeze of the flag being waved feverishly. Present war as an honorable and glorious tale of titans clashing and it’s hard not to create patriotic lumps in throats.
It takes amazing skill to make a war film like “Fury” that is so bravely honest in its depiction of the horrors and heroics of war. These are no gallant warriors meeting on the field of battle for a chivalrous conflict. “Fury” shows that war is brutal in the way it strips away the human spirit and leaves the participants reacting with a kind of prehistoric instinct for survival. The only thing that separates these combatants from being no more than untethered beasts is a camaraderie that exists somewhere between being a best friend and a family member.
You can slap a uniform on any actor, have them crawl through the mud and fire a gun. It takes a real performer to make the more personal moments resonate so loudly they will echo in your dreams.
Such performances come from Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal who play the members of a World War II tank crew in Germany facing an impossible mission. Under other circumstances this group of a men would never come together, but they become one when it becomes necessary.
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Just like soldiers watch out for each other, this group of actors come together to turn in some of the best work of their careers. Pitt’s quiet performance acts as the foundation as he plays both each moment with the same power, authority and commitment. He’s particularly good with Lerman, whose character is the rookie member of the group forced to grow up in a matter of hours.
Most surprising is LaBeouf, who has shaken the vapidness of past roles to reveal, that if given the right part, he can step up and be noticed. His character could have gone toward a more zealot portrayal, but LaBeouf gives the film just enough spiritual center.
Director/writer David Ayer gives the actors plenty of room to not play soldiers, but also to show the people who exist inside those uniforms. A scene where the tank crew is given a few moments rest in a newly liberated town plays out with a haunting emotional tone that smoothly shifts from the excitement of young love to the bitter realities of war. There’s not as much fighting in the sequence, yet each moment is equally explosive.
Ayer’s confident storytelling allows for some quiet moments. These are the places where a more standard war movie would take the opportunity to talk about how all of this is being done for the greater good. Instead, there’s a casual conversation between the crew members about what it means to be a band of brothers that has an ominous feel.
There’s an undercurrent of patriotism that carries “Fury” along. That journey — as shown by Ayer — is carried along by the blood, sweat and tears of average people whose true heroism comes by just being able to move forward.