Tanks May Drive Slow, But The Action In Fury Comes Fast And Furious.

Fury.
Director: David Ayer.
Writer: David Ayer.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña, Jon Bernthal, Logan Lerman.
Playing At: Wide Release.

War is hell.

I know this because I've had an education on Planet Earth, because I've read about the atrocity in history classes, because I've seen painful footage and images from documentaries and photographs, and because I've watched some really exceptional fictional films that painted mind-blowing portraits of war meant to remind us of these harsh times and the sacrifices that soldiers make for our freedom.

Echoing Samuel Maoz’ Lebanon, Fury is a movie about a lone tank and the soldiers who man it. The name of the tank is Fury, and those who run it: Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), Bible (Shia LaBeouf), Gordo (Michael Peña), Coon-Ass (Jon Bernthal) and the new recruit, Machine (Logan Lerman). These guys make Fury a well-oiled machine. And that's the sole reason why they've survived battles through France and, by the time we catch up with them, in Germany.

It's been a long fight. And for this crew, it seems as if war is all they will ever know. But Fury, rather than too grand in scope, keeps its focus on April 1945, following along as Wardaddy and his team blow holes through Germany and, sure, some Nazi soldier’s heads, too.

The story is familiar, perhaps, but its telling method is new. Fury is a war movie that's like no other war movie I've seen before. We spend a lot of time inside the tank, with writer/director David Ayer thoroughly showing us the man-powered moving parts and how each soldier's one job is just as crucial as the others'.

And if there's one thing these guys know, it's that they must work together in harmony in order to be the last men standing. That's one of Fury's great reveals: When tanks are going at it, it's not the one with the bigger stick that's going to win; it’s how well the soldiers inside are operating it. Every bullet and every hit counts — an axiom hammered home by a rather amazing battle scene in which Fury and three other American Sherman tanks take on one giant juggernaut from Germany, the Tiger 131. Every battle scene in the film is impressive, but this scene will make your jaw drop. It shows how strategy is just as important as the weapons, and it zeroes in on how one little error can kill a whole platoon.

Ayer, we know by now, can well inflict fear in his audiences. He already flashed this talent in the many adrenaline-fueled scenes of the damn-near-perfect End of Watch. In Fury, we get little breaks here and there, but once the sonic booms of the tanks begin to blast, Ayer relentlessly cranks things to the max It's cutting-edge entertainment: The battle scenes are tightly orchestrated, even if the decision to use Star Wars-colored flares as a means to distinguish who's shooting at who is a little unnecessary. Pandemonium is pandemonium. It needs little explanation; those still breathing during the aftermath are the obvious victors.

Also, Fury succeeds during its calmer moments. After Wardaddy and a bunch of others take out a town of Nazis, most soldiers stop to loot the dead. But Wardaddy and Machine instead head up to an apartment occupied by two women, have a meal and enjoy a shave. After months — possibly years — inside a tiny tank with four other men, that shave was probably the most pleasurable thing to happen to Wardaddy in a very long time, something Pitt sells rather well.

Also sold well? The camaraderie of this explosive cast. A surefire contender for Best Ensemble, it's stacked from the top on down. Pitt is great as anticipated as the well-respected and tough-but-human father figure, of course, but it's LaBeouf, Peña and Bernthal who really shine as soldiers who've been riding along with Wardaddy since Day One. They banter, fight and keep each other in check.

It's more than just acting, and LaBeouf in particular pulls it off quite well. He immerses himself into Bible and goes to great lengths to give his performance an element of realism. Rumor has it he pulled out his own tooth and didn't shower for weeks for this role — and I believe it.

Bernthal capably rolls with the punches, too, allowing the film to come to him. Peña, meanwhile, continues his exhilarating run as one of the more underappreciated actors of his generation. Even Lerman, in a role that demands weakness and vulnerability, holds his own against Pitt and the rest of the crew.

Collectively, they bring an unmistakable realistic quality to Fury, which, on the whole, refuses to dance lightly around its war subject matter. When someone dies, Wardaddy screams for his team to keep fighting and carry on.

It's interesting, then, that Fury makes no bones about any historical inaccuracies. Hey, Tarantino killed Hitler in Inglourious Basterds, and that's one hell of a Pitt-starring war film itself. The story is the thing — and Fury understands that well.

It just wants to show you what life is like in a warring tank. But it soars because it does so with admirable grace.

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