By Todd Perkins, Staff Movie Reviewer
When thinking of World War II films, one usually references “The Longest Yard” or Steven Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan”. Not only do these movies define each generation’s imagining of the time, but both are hugely entertaining films that deliver audience expectation. So now, whenever a filmmaker wishes to tackle any subject related to combat during the Second World War, it is inevitable that his or her film will be compared with these two movies. This is a challenge that writer-director David Ayer takes on with his ferocious new war epic “Fury”, a work that both lives up to and falls under the high expectations set before it.
The story is relatively straight forward: a team of soldiers fight the German opposition from the confounds of a tank. That’s the bulk of the plot. Brad Pitt plays their leader, a grizzled army man nicknamed Wardaddy, and the rest of the group is made up of actors Shia LeBeauf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal, and Michael Pena. The film is about the relationships between these men, and their abilities to operate within such close quarters.
There is a lot to like about this film. Ayer is a strong director whose previous movie “End of Watch”, which also starred Pena, followed two policemen during their day-to-day duties in the crime infested streets of Los Angeles. That film was dark, gritty, and incredibly realistic, allowing the viewers to not only relate to the protagonists, but feel as if they were right there with them. With this film, Ayer seems to strive for something very similar. Audiences are stuck with these five men as they roll from town to town wiping out German soldiers, but the key difference here is that these men are not as relatable because they come right out of classic movie stock characters. Lerman is the fragile new recruit, unfamiliar with violence, Bernthal is the rough-headed southern stereotype, Pena is comedy relief, LeBeauf is the religious scholar, and Pitt is the tough-as-nails, no nonsense leader who must hide his true emotions from the rest of the crew.
The performances are good, and all the leads fulfill their respective roles admirably, but there’s nothing new or original for them to do. Pitt is a strong performer, and his performance is crucial to holding this film together, which is why it mostly works. Despite being stock characters, it is still easy to like them even if the viewer does not identify with them.
The production design is flawless, with each battle making its mark on the rest of the film. It is rare for every standoff in an action film to stand out, but this film has several technically well-crafted moments that truly shine. Where the film really succeeds, however, is in its third act. The pacing, acting, and direction all come together to form one of the tensest scenes to play in theaters so far this year, which is saying something.
“Fury” is a solid war film, even if it does tread on familiar territory. Pitt is always watchable, and his charisma and star power really sells the film. Lerman, Bernthal, and Pena are all memorable, and LeBeauf proves that he is a terrifically gifted actor despite his off-screen antics. The action delivers, the emotional punches work, and the film succeeds in living up to expectations. Ayer has two great films on his resume, and perhaps next time he can exceed expectations rather than simply meet them.