As long as there’s been cinema, there’s been war films. From recreations and stagings, to reports from the front-line, Hollywood has always been close to their soldiers in battle. It comes as no surprise then that big budget war epics are dealt in swathes across the globe. The bigger question here then is that with so many out there at any one time, how does one make their’s stand-out above the crowd? Well, if your name happens to be David Ayer, the answer is most certainly exceedingly bloody violence, and lots of it.
Ayer’s passion project Fury targets a small five-man tank crew as they journey across war-torn Nazi Germany in the dying days of World War Two. Following the death of their much-celebrated gunner, young new recruit Norman (Logan Lerman) is drafted in his place, causing sparks amongst the tight-knit team, as the tank which houses them (the ‘Fury’ of the title) shoots and scrapes its way across the unforgiving battlefields that lie ahead. United by their omniscient crew leader (Brad Pitt’s affectionately titled War Daddy), the scarred band of misfits gradually drag their way towards the war’s end, but of course through the most difficult route possible.
It becomes very clear within even just the opening ten minutes of Fury that this is far from your standard war drama. Ayer’s thirst for extensive blood and gore effects quickly takes point, dragging his tank tale into a horrifying hyper-reality wherein no kind of brutality is ever shied away from. Chunks of face, severed legs and burning flesh are common occurrences throughout, all displayed in all their grimy detail, a bold step towards highlighting the true horrors of war, but one which Ayer seizes almost too readily. Instead of simply peppering his finely-tuned and highly-tensed action set-pieces with mere hints of gore, he drags the camera in close, dwelling on the injuries to such a degree that at times, Fury feels closer to the likes of Rambo than it does a more serious war thriller. Although effective in showcasing the fallout of battle, this borderline obsession Ayer has with human suffering almost makes his film simply too intense.
Similarly, by boasting a stupendously well-cast crew of fiercely determined actors (Lerman and Pitt also joined by a hulky Jon Bernthal, Ayer alumni Michael Peña and a surprisingly terrific Shia LaBeouf), Fury hits a stride of totally devoted realism. Each of the five actors in play for the film’s running time dig right down in deep into the very cores of their characters, mastering exactly what drives them and amplifying it for all to see. This flawless ensemble’s total conviction adds an even more apparent layer of intensity, making for a film so insanely dramatic and powerful that it often actually becomes quite difficult to watch. It’s very clear that this is very much a meaningful movie for all involved.
Where Fury begins to falter however is in terms of its plotting. With no real narrative to speak of other than the wandering journeys of the previously-noted tank crew, Ayer’s film jumps oddly between beautifully orchestrated battle sequences and exceedingly slow and muddled expositional segments explaining the inner-psyches of his characters. Despite proving greatly interesting and supplying the film with a whole lot more heart, these moments find Ayer completely slamming on the brakes, making for an often rather jarring experience.
Ultimately, Fury both wins and loses points for its preposterous amounts of testosterone-fueled intensity. Despite creating something that stands as both entertaining and deeply affecting, Ayer has sacrificed the stability of his film in favour of a more disconcerting grittiness that leaves a profoundly bad taste in the mouth. It may well be that this is very much the intended effect, but in a film that dances so inelegantly between hard-nosed drama and full-on pitch-black action, it’s never quite clear. One thing’s for certain, Fury is not a fun film by any stretch of the imagination.
Fury, directed by David Ayer, is showing as part of the BFI London Film Festival on 19th October. Tickets are available from whatson.bfi.org.uk.