Having written the hugely successful and highly entertaining ‘Training Day’ and helmed 2012’s excellent police drama ‘End of Watch’, David Ayer is definitely a talented and interesting film-maker but since ‘End of Watch’ was really his first genuinely good film as director whereas previous films like ‘Street Kings’ merely lives in the range of mindless violence. Having learned to refine his films and assembled a cast as strong as the one for this one, with the likes of Brad Pitt, Jon Bernthal, Michael Pena and Logan Lerman it seemed reasonable to be trepidatious but hopeful of another success even despite of his previous film, a disastrous collaboration with Arnie called ‘Sabotage’.
This is his first writer-director joint credit since ‘End of Watch’ though, and the increased freedom that gives him definitely seems to work in his favour because ‘Fury’ is a visceral, intense experience that benefits from stellar performances from everyone, including the much maligned Shia LaBeouf who gives arguably the best performance as Boyd ‘Bible’ Swan, a devout Christian and Technician whose faith in God provides the squad with comfort and whose skill with a cannon does too. It’s nice to see him in a role where it doesn’t just look like he’s reading lines without any discernible emotion from a piece of paper, which is testament to Ayer’s directorial ability.
It’s a war film that doesn’t fall in to territory that is overly clichéd, its best moments coming in tense, edgy situations where the actors truly get to shine, one particular moment where the group are in the house of some civilians comes to mind in particular, an arena where the tensions that aren’t allowed to come out in the closed confines of the tank definitely do when the group experiences some semblance of normality. Sure, most of its spectacle may be in the bombastic action scenes that involve tanks and copious shooting but it’s the scenes where characters are forced to address the horrors around them that work best.
There aren’t many negatives, but one is that it does focus on the least remarkable performance, and that is Brad Pitt who plays that tank’s commander Don ‘Wardaddy’ Collier. Sure, he’s a great actor that can certainly excel, but here it feels like he’s just brought over his performance over from ‘Inglourious Basterds’ and even if the is the film’s biggest name it’s odd that a film that’s so set on exploring the arc of Lerman’s character Norman Ellison, whose introduction to the tank’s old guards is abrasive and difficult as you would expect. Indeed, Lerman is the character around whom the narrative is based so the focus on Collier is a weird one, but it allows for their relationship to build through the story, so ultimately may not be such a bad thing.
In the end ‘Fury’ is a tense and gritty action film that has moments of brilliance and even attempts at some philosophy, which it may not quite achieve but ultimately doesn’t need to be successful, and is another marker of Ayer’s ability when he’s allowed to work on both the script as well as behind the camera.
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