“Are you saved?”
I can relate when people look at David Ayer‘s Fury and shake their heads saying, “We get it. War is brutal.” I can because I remember sitting down to watch The Reader in 2008 only to think how completely over Holocaust movies I was that year. I believe I saw four or five—each good, relevant, and powerful on its own terms if not overwhelming when put together. That’s kind of the point, though, isn’t it? At the end of the day the truth of the matter is that we don’t get it. Not by a long shot. Unless you’ve been to war—military combat, gang life, oppressive police state, etc.—you have no idea what it means to risk your life simply by looking forward. I can imagine, however, that Ayers has come awfully close.
Throw the behind the scenes stories out the window. No one cares that Shia LaBeouf pulled out a tooth, cut up his face, or refused to shower. No one cares that the cast went through a week of arduous boot camp to start a four-month long prep period either. Actors have gone method and been forced to go through basic training before—they still aren’t readying themselves for a real battlefield with live ammunition whizzing past their heads every second of every day. No, the thing I took note of beyond the film itself was how Ayer made his principal quintet eat, sleep, and defecate in the tank. He encouraged fighting—verbally and physically—among them so they could bond as men, friends, and soldiers regardless of celebrity status, age, or reputation. He made them equals.
This is key because they must be unrecognizable onscreen. They are broken men willing themselves past the atrocities they have committed and witnessed, each putting on a brave face and embracing the monstrous nature inside them that has been cultivated by years of warfare over two continents to get where there are right now. We don’t meet them as they’re drafted or shipping out, our introduction is in the midst of battle with tank driver Gordo (Michael Peña) sitting in silence and holding the hand of his fallen comrade whose face has been sliced clean off. Their vehicle—coined Fury—is the last of their contingent, riding off to their next check point to meet up with four others despite Captain Waggoner (Jason Isaacs) requesting a fleet of ten. He’s lucky he got any.
As the opening title cards state, World War II was not friendly to Allied tank men. Their German counterparts were better equipped and as a result cut through American artillery like butter thanks to their Tigers. So while the carnage on D-Day is unforgettable in its breadth, you would do well not to belittle the sacrifices made afterwards by those enshrined in a metal tomb willfully charging towards a foe they knew was superior and quite possibly the last earthly visage they’d ever see. Ayer honors them like Steven Spielberg did those brave souls on the beaches of Normany, giving each a steely face and a no quit attitude as tank after tank explode in a ball of flame. He renders their actions in full brutal glory: a ferocious display of courage and might.
Like the film Lebanon before it, Fury is less about the tank or the war than it is about those sitting inside. Everyone is up to the task whether Brad Pitt‘s Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier barely holding onto his wits after every life’s extinguished and the necessity to keep a brave face for his men to Logan Lerman‘s Norman Ellison, a clerk who’d been typing reports for eight weeks before being sent into the most volatile machine imaginable without zero clue about what to do. Add Peña’s hard exterior hiding the fear and hope he’s still a good man underneath; Jon Bernthal‘s vicious ‘Coon-Ass’ whose bite becomes a necessity to keep his head from simply killing everyone in sight no matter allegiance; and LaBeouf’s ‘Bible’, an enigma of emotion and idealism in a world he knows needs neither.
We see them in the fight, in the calm, and the moments in between. Reprieves last minutes before enemy fire rains down or a new mission is deployed. Their vitriol towards the Nazis is earned and paid in full, each man devoid of compassion for those who have fought tirelessly to destroy them. It’s not all blind rage, however, as they appropriately hold the SS in higher esteem for bloody murder than the women and children forced into uniform by the Führer under penalty of death. You may even be willing to forgive their transgressions towards the German women they hold as trophies if not for the steady and firm hand of ‘Wardaddy’ ensuring some semblance of honor and decency remain intact. For every brief moment of humanity Ayer allows, however, equal or greater nightmare awaits.
And this is the beauty of Fury—its unflinching gaze at a horror we can only pray we’ll never know first hand. There are no smiles, pats on the back, or victory laps. For these soldiers the quiet of survival only gives birth to the unceasing memory of deeds done and lives taken on both sides. War films depicting heroes are created to honor and applaud, but they also gloss over the pain inflicted that never goes away. Rest is granted through death and Ayer alongside his cast and crew never waver from expressing this truth. To live isn’t to breath a sigh of relief; it’s to ask for forgiveness that you remain when others have not. That isn’t something to be trifled with nor something to call “overkill” or “redundant”. Its authenticity is a difficult pill.
In all the mud, blood, and sweat, the actors portray these men without a shred of irony or insincerity and still impossibly instill faith. LaBeouf’s ‘Bible’ cements his jaw and allows ‘Gordo’ and ‘Coon-Ass’ to wreak havoc, but a solitary tear down his cheek exposes the conflict raging inside. Bernthal earns our hate one minute only to watch his maddening indifference wash away in a moment of tough love for a brother not yet hardened to the reality that casualties are status quo. And Pitt’s ‘Wardaddy’ proves heartbreaking with every attempt at bringing order and civility to the chaos. It’s Lerman, though, who resonates as the innocent we hold onto within the dark abyss. We follow him into the depths of hell because we need him to survive—body and soul—to know we as a species can too.
 Norman (Logan Lerman) and Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) in Columbia Pictures’ FURY. PHOTO BY: Giles Keyte © 2014 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
 Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf) in Columbia Pictures’ FURY. PHOTO BY: Giles Keyte © 2014 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
 Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Pena), Norman (Logan Lerman), Emma (Alicia Von Rittenberg), Wardaddy (Brad Pitt) and Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LeBeouf) in Columbia Pictures’ FURY. PHOTO BY: Giles Keyte © 2014 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT INC. FOR PROMOTIONAL USE ONLY. SALE, DUPLICATION OR TRANSFER OF THIS MATERIAL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED.