While watching Writer-Director David Ayer’s latest World War II drama, Fury, I was constantly reminded of the opening to the Fallout video games: “War. War never changes.” It does change men, though. The problem is, when you don’t really know the men in the first place, it’s hard to gauge just how much it has changed them.
The story of Fury centers on the tank crew led by Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt). He has had the same crew since Africa and in the waning days of the war, as his tank, “Fury,” rumbles through Germany, he has lost his gunner. Reinforcements come in the form of Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a clerk typist who has never seen the inside of a tank. Norman is completely unprepared for the horrors of war, a fact that his crewmates never let him forget. Those crewmates include Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal), Trini “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña), and Boyd “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf). As the war winds down and Norman loses a little more of his soul, the tank is sent on a mission where they end up alone, hopelessly outnumbered.
The action scenes in Fury are very tense and exciting, but ultimately, that’s all there really is to it. All we learn about the characters we’re following is that they’re soldiers and that war is hell. They talk about their haunting experiences in the war, but we know nothing of their lives prior to that. Some of the best scenes in Saving Private Ryan were the quiet ones where we learn about the men fighting the war. Hell, there was even an ongoing subplot about the soldiers trying to learn Tom Hanks’ background. There’s nothing like that in Fury. We know that Boyd is religious…and that’s about it. Collier has some private moments of doubt, but he might as well have been born on the battlefield. The mission the men are sent on doesn’t seem all that important in the overall scheme of things—though the commanders could never have known that—and ultimately the decisions the crew makes seem foolish. The film might have worked better if it had been set in some fictional war, but because it’s not, and the story is not based on real events, the audience knows what the ultimate outcome is. Add to it that the audience isn’t invested in the characters and their objective isn’t very clear, and all we’re left with is great action.
The performances are very good for the most part. Pitt is fantastic as the complicated Wardaddy. His leadership methods are questionable at best, but he does show his decent human side on a few occasions. Peña is great as always as the tank driver, Gordo, but like the others, we don’t learn much about him. Bernthal is a little one note as Coon-Ass, playing an ignorant redneck. He comes across as a guy who needed the war, because without it, he’d probably have been killing people at home. LaBeouf is very good as Boyd, but his character was a little contradictory. As the main gunner, he’s no angel, but as the moral center of the crew, he makes some questionable decisions at various points in the film. The only character that completely didn’t ring true to me was Lerman’s Norman. Lerman does fine with the role—though I didn’t completely buy his tough talk when he finally started killing Nazis—but the character’s arc is a little too much. Clearly, one of the big themes in the film is how war changes men, but Norman seems to flip in about three days’ time. It was a little too compressed for me. Also, all these characters, to a large extent, are just archetypes from other, superior, war films. When the characters aren’t given any really quiet moments to develop, they’re just empty shells.
Overall, Fury was a disappointment. It fully demonstrates how hellish war is and the tank warfare is thrilling, but that’s really all there is. I would have liked to have seen more character work, especially with this great cast.