Shermanating Soldiers: David Ayer’s Fury (2014) – Blu-ray review
War is hell, and Fury doesn’t mind showing it – it’s a film as messy, imperfect, ambiguous and exhilarating as its subject
(David Ayer, 2014)
In retrospect, it was probably obvious that David Ayer would make a war film. From his screenplay to Training Day, through to his films as director like Harsh Times and End Of Watch, Ayer has staked out claim as the chronicler of street soldiers, comfortable with the banter, violence and morally questionable behaviour of people living in areas oft described as warzones. Tackling the real thing is the next logical step.
The fundamental difficulty with making yet another film about WWII is how to differentiate it from all of the others. Ayer has two such means. The most blatant is to revolve the story around the crew of a tank, achieving the emotional closeness of platoon flicks like Saving Private Ryan, but adding the visual claustrophobia of something like Das Boot. The tank – at once mobile on the outside but static on the inside – brings cohesion and unity to an otherwise episodic narrative. No matter where they go, conditions remain cramped, smelly and dangerous, fuelling the film’s Sam Fuller-with-added-swearing theme of men under pressure.
Better still, Ayer goes old-school, using period specific Sherman tanks as much as possible and creating the same tactile authenticity that could be found in End Of Watch. Seeing the actors locked into their surroundings brings a level of immersion rare these days. Michael Peña, a veteran of the earlier film, is fast becoming the auteur of acting while inside vehicles.
But the masterstroke is for Ayer to bring to the material the same level of moral difficulty as his modern-day films. ‘War is hell’ is the biggest cliché going, but Ayer shows the ramifications on the soul. For a just war, there is an awful lot of injustice here, much of it perpetrated by the American heroes, lost without the moral compass. “There is no right or wrong, our job is to kill,” urges Brad Pitt’s Wardaddy, given to uttering self-justifying, gnomic advice like “Ideals are peaceful, war is violent.”
“Heroism,” here is pragmatic, tragic and sometimes hateful, especially when Wardaddy uses an unarmed German prisoner to prove to green recruit Norman (Logan Lerman) just what a man needs to be capable of. Amidst the carnage, the making or breaking of Norman is strangely compelling, especially in the extended central sequence where the two men find German women, an oasis of life in the desert of the dead. That is, if Wardaddy and his crew aren’t too far gone to recognise it, with Peña and Jon Bernthal horribly believable as nice guys shelving their niceness for a quick fumble with a local woman.
It’s far from a perfect film, with Ayer half-inclined to adopt a Sherman approach to the questions he poses, bludgeoning through the awkwardness en route to the next set-piece. It’s one of the films where a director is consumed by the same giddy, guilty pleasures (here, the video-game-influenced filming of Nazi heads gets splattered) even as he is warning of the dangers of the same. The coda to the bit with the women is as predictable as it is unnecessary, and the final act (no matter how expertly staged) gives in to a tidy piece of punctuation for these ‘do or die’ tank-dwellers for whom the outside world might be too ordinary. “Best job I ever had,” goes the refrain. For Ayer, the job is changing; his faults as a writer are overcome by his growing confidence as a director.