Published Oct 15, 2014David Ayer's Fury is one of the most relentlessly grim war films in recent memory, a half-hearted attempt at updating Saving Private Ryan's violent historical revisionism that doesn't quite land due to Ayer's commitment to genre constraints. While Ayer's previous films had a particular charm to their blend of working-class labour struggle and exploitation sleaze (which peaked in Sabotage, his other 2014 release), transplanting his usual formula to Fury's World War II setting fumbles his usually well-executed tone.
Ayer's always been at his best in taking apart team dynamics, usually in police environments, trying to pinpoint what makes his characters tick. He absolutely nails the team dynamic in Fury, but in trying to make a more "serious" film, ends up doing too many things at once. Fury finds Ayer trying to be taken more serious with Oscar-bait material, but the film ultimately undoes itself by being a David Ayer film, tackling the same material as always but dressed up in a nicer package.
Fury's ensemble does strong work, highlighted by Brad Pitt, who seems more engaged and appropriately dialled-down with the material than usual. Pitt's character, Don, leads a tank command team during the last days of the Second World War, as his unit is stationed deep in Germany while the Nazi army collapses. Don's team has just lost their tank driver as the film opens, in the first of many gratuitously gory and explicit sequences throughout the film's punishing 140-minute runtime.
The team is assigned a new driver, Norman, played by Logan Lerman, who was terrific in a similar role in this year's Noah. Forced into combat for the first time, Norman is unprepared and serves as our common ground when facing the relentlessly gruesome realities of war in the film's first act. Lerman is fantastic in the film and genuinely connects with Pitt, a rare thing these days. as Pitt tends to overpower almost every ensemble film he's in. Both lead roles require lived-in and physical performances, and both Lerman and Pitt do great work here.
In the rest of the ensemble, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal are terrific in their underwritten roles, carving out the slightest glimpses of humanity in their shell-shocked characters, while Shia LaBeouf seems to be on the verge of tears at all times. His bible-quoting, deeply religious character can't quite transcend the simple genre archetypes in the way the older cast members are able to, and ends up being overshadowed by the rest of the ensemble most of the time.
Ayer stages some thrilling action sequences and is a master in building suspense, but there are a number of moments that fall flat in the film, especially when it feels like he's trying too hard to say something profound. By trying to transcend his well-developed "guys on a mission" formula, Ayer stumbles. The film is one of the goriest I've seen in years, but rather than convey the horrors of war in a historical revisionist fashion, it all ends up feeling gratuitous without saying much.