I rather liked David Ayer’s last film, the 2012 found-footage cop drama End of Watch. The financial success of that movie has allowed him to make Fury, a World War II film on a much bigger budget. Unhappily, the current movie has brought all of his flaws as a writer-director to the fore and precious few of his strengths.
The story picks up in April 1945, with the Allies pushing into Germany and meeting resistance from only the most fanatical Nazis. Pvt. Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) is a clerk typist who’s been dragooned into serving as an assistant driver for an M4 Sherman tank named “Fury,” commanded by Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt). Ellison’s first task is to clean up the remains of his predecessor, which are still splattered all over the inside of the tank. Wardaddy, for his part, busies himself with protecting his crew and the Allied supply lines from heavy Nazi artillery and Panzer tanks that are superior to the Americans’.
The setup here isn’t all that different from the one in End of Watch, with the majority of the movie taking place inside a vehicle. However, the quick-hitting spontaneity of End of Watch is a casualty of the bigger budget and the more conventional style that Ayer adopts. American tanks during World War II were hard to see out of, forcing commanders to stick their heads out in the line of fire. The tanks were also prone to bursting into flames and roasting their occupants alive when hit by anti-tank guns. Ayer doesn’t make anything out of the vulnerability of these potent but slow-moving vehicles, nor does he have the visual skills to make the interior of the tank into a claustrophobic setting. He does manage a good combat scene when Fury goes up against a Panzer I Tiger, and the crew works furiously to get the tank around the backside of the Nazi tank to hit its weak spot and keep from being blasted.
Worse, his characters wind up drowning in the idiot machismo that has plagued all of his movies. Nothing comes out of the punishing scene in the middle when Wardaddy forces Ellison (who has yet to kill anyone) to execute a surrendering German soldier. When the movie’s not being brutal, it’s indulging in woolly sentiments about the brotherhood among soldiers, as Wardaddy and each member of his crew bond by repeating the mantra, “Best job I ever had.” The interlude with Ellison finding a brief romance with a German woman (Alicia von Rittberg) is embarrassingly done, too. The pallid characters strand a cast that includes Shia LaBeouf, wearing an unfortunate mustache but blending seamlessly into the ensemble as a devoutly Christian tank gunner. None of the filmmakers or principals seem to have brought their A game to Fury, which is why this glum, dully intense war movie makes so little impression.
Starring Brad Pitt and Logan Lerman. Written and directed by David Ayer. Rated R.