Fury, ladies and gentlemen, is a war film. Of this there can be no doubt. Some heavy spoilers ahead though, I would argue, nothing you can’t see coming from the opening few scenes…
Hard-bitten Brad Pitt steers a tank-crew of dehumanised veterans plus one raw recruit through a World War II shitty, gritty, and horrible even by the standards of World War II. The crew are pretty horrible. Being in a tank is really horrible. Warfare is extremely horrible.
It’s a pretty good film, too. Performances are strong. The mud, the blood, the horrifying ruination are highly convincing. The tank interior suitably claustrophobic. The action is crunching.
But, for me, it was far from a great film. It touts itself early on as unflinching, ultra-real. It shoves the viewer’s face in the slaughter the way Brad Pitt shoves his raw recruit’s face in it. Bodies are bulldozed into trenches. Civilians dangle from lamp posts. Corpses are splattered by tank tracks. LOOK AT IT. CORPSE. TANK TRACKS. SPLAT! HOW HARDCORE IS THAT?
Well, yes, I suppose that is very hardcore, except that, as it goes along, the core of the film seemed to me to end up being very traditional. Tightly-knit group of tough veterans lead wide-eyed recruit through the war-torn country, dribbling casualties, to a violent and ennobling last stand is about the most classic 2nd World War film plot going, and Fury hits all the expected beats, but Saving Private Ryan, for all its occasional soft-centredness, seemed a more honest treatment of the material, with a lot more to say than Fury about warfare and what it does to the men caught up in it. Fury lacked any theme, really. Religion wandered in and out but to what purpose it was unclear.
There was negligible effort to treat the german soldiers like people, even up to the point that their tactics seem rather dumb – more intended to service the needs of the plot than to make any sense. Unsupported Tiger crews drive straight at the enemy to expose their one weak spot. Unsupported infantry swarm pointlessly into optimum mowing-down positions. ‘I have a family!’ one prisoner shouts desperately in subtitles before Brad Pitt flings their photographs in the mud and forces his recruit to shoot him in the back. This is deeply nasty at the time, except it’s presented in the long run to have been at worst grimly necessary. The dehumanisation of the veterans is offered up as a real bad thing early on, but it’s not long before our reluctant conscience-ridden green recruit has been converted to a one-man slaughterhouse, literally dubbed ‘machine’ by his comrades, snarling ‘die motherfuckers’ as he mows down nazis by the dozen. Nuanced it is not.
By the time of the climactic final battle, pretensions of deep hardcore-ness and realism seem to have been abandoned in favour of strangely traditional gung-ho noble last stand-ness. Even the visuals and the editing go strangely dark and muddy, as though everyone ran out of ideas a bit. Every significant death is accompanied by a little pause in the savage action for the crew and audience to contemplate the significance of that death. Brad Pitt can get shot four times by a sniper and still slither back into the tank to growl his last lines. ‘You’re a hero,’ murmur awestruck rescuers to the one survivor. Finally, when we pull back from the ruined tank to show a veritable sea of German corpses, I felt I was invited to see this as a good, even a noble and heroic, even a religiously righteous thing.
It’s full of sound and fury, no doubt, and at times highly effective, but when the smoke clears I’m not sure Fury is signifying very much…