If someone is going to make a movie about World War II, he had better have a strong reason for doing so. Definitive movies about the Holocaust, military conquests and other aspects have already been made, leaving those that follow to pale in comparison.
That is exactly the quandary in which Fury finds itself. Written and directed by David Ayer (End of Watch, Training Day), it follows one particularly resilient tank crew as they wind their way around Europe.
No matter how you spin it, the tank crew’s journey can’t help but feel familiar to anyone who’s seen his fair share of WWII movies.
The grizzled Don Collier (Brad Pitt) leads a crew that includes Boyd Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini Garcia (Michael Pena) and Grady Travis (Jon Bernthal), who have served under Collier for a long time. Down a man, they are forced to take on the fresh-faced Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), who’s not even trained for tank combat.
On one hand, Ayer should be given credit for finding a unique angle for a World War II story. Most war films have focused on the troops on the ground or in the air, but few, if any, have paid tribute to the men inside the tanks.
As Ayer expertly shows, they faced their own special kind of hell; it took a certain kind of man to not only endure such cramped conditions but also thrive in the relatively cumbersome machine.
Still, no matter how you spin it, the tank crew’s journey can’t help but feel familiar to anyone who’s seen his fair share of WWII movies. The Spartan conditions, the stopovers in bombed-out villages, the inexperienced soldier getting thrown into the fire, the infighting followed by heroics when the group comes together — all of these and more are classic war movie tropes that feel more like checkmarks on a Ayer’s list than inspired storytelling.
That’s not to say the actors don’t do their damnedest to sell the story. Pitt, perhaps by virtue of starring in another World War II movie, Inglourious Basterds, shows himself to be a true leader. And although a lot of their dialogue consists of expletives aimed at Nazis, LaBeouf, Pena, Bernthal and Lerman have moments in which they make the story their own.
If Fury is your first foray into World War II storytelling, it has all the right elements to make for an effective drama. But those elements have been done before — and better — by many previous war films, leaving more experienced moviegoers unsatisfied.