David Ayer’s Fury follows the convention of many war films to portray war as hell. Within this cliché, the film also demonstrates the attitude that enables one to survive in this hell, including a certain type of pleasure.
Fury centres upon its eponymous tank with a five-man crew during the final Allied advance through Germany in 1945. The crew is commanded by Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) and includes Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Pena) and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), and new recruit Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). Norman’s character is an inexperienced cliché of the war film genre, as are the monstrous Nazis, Collier the (physically and mentally) scarred veteran, Swan the bible basher, and the film climaxes with an Alamo-style final battle.
Ayers combines these clichés, however, with unexpected developments and unflinching portrayal of the physical and psychical impact of combat: heads and bodies are blown apart; corpses are crushed by tank treads; men are burnt alive; civilians are killed indiscriminately. Several heart-stopping set pieces involve the crew of Fury fighting more advanced German tanks. These battles are agonisingly long, and fast editing between close-ups of the different members of the tank crew heighten the tension. During these sequences, I found myself wishing that Collier would give the order “Cease fire, target destroyed” because those words meant the fight was over, as the tension was almost unbearable. Battles in Fury are painful battles of attrition where the victor is simply the last tank standing.
The unexpected developments of the film concern the humanity and inhumanity of the soldiers. As the film progresses, Norman becomes less resistant and eventually takes satisfaction in killing “fuckin’ Nazis”. Disturbingly, this change in his perspective is completely understandable. The violence these men encounter and inflict makes them brutish and cruel, but not totally inhuman. Collier demonstrates resigned cynicism while Norman’s growing bloodlust exists alongside his humanist sympathy. The brutishness of the crew is explicitly a coping mechanism for the horrors they encounter, but the men’s wounded souls are apparent. The overall impression of Fury is that war is hell, and those within it are neither demons nor angels, just people who are deeply, irrevocably affected by it.