- - Thursday, October 16, 2014

‘Fury” is one of the most violent, brutal, nightmarish movies you’ll see all year. It is a movie about carnage and killing, chaos and madness, blood and dirt, and the will to kill. It’s a war movie, one of the most intense I’ve ever seen, and, for the most part, it’s a rather good one, even though it’s not always easy to watch.

“Fury” is set aboard a tank at the tail end of World War II. The Allies are pushing through Germany, taking town after town, frequently hitting fierce resistance, despite the seeming inevitability of the outcome.

Despite its World War II setting and its fetish for visual accuracy, the movie is not much of a history lesson. Instead, it’s a violent, often nihilistic meditation on the nature of war and the drive to continue fighting and killing to the bitter end.

Why do the Germans keep fighting? Why don’t they just give up? The movie’s protagonists, a grizzled team manning a tank with the word “fury” scrawled on its barrel, keep wondering about their enemy. But the questions they ask are really about themselves.

Leading the crew is a blonde action figure of a man named Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), the tank team’s ferocious and determined commander. Like Robert Duvall’s Col. Kilgore in “Apocalypse Now,” Wardaddy is less a man and more of a symbol: Untouchable, unknowable, and unstoppable, he’s the tank’s god.

Mr. Pitt underplays the role, but his barked orders and million-mile stare suggest a life that has collapsed and emptied, leaving only violent inertia. It helps that he can come across as ageless; combined with the script’s total lack of backstory, it’s like he’s always been at war.

The tank team’s other longtime members — Bible (Shia LaBeouf), Gordo (Michael Pea), and Grady (Jon Bernthal) — are all just expressions of the tank’s personality: its twisted morality, its perverse sense of duty, its borderline-sadistic aggression.

Their lives, such as they are, are disrupted when a new gunner shows up: a young man named Norman (Logan Lerman), who has no tank training or combat history whatsoever. Unlike the rest of the crew, Norman is not grizzled and spent. He’s more scared than angry, and bothered by the very act of killing. Much of the movie is spent contrasting his sensibility — the sensibility of a normal human unscarred by years of combat — with the amoral viciousness of his new comrades.

In some ways, the story parallels the nave student/mad mentor relationship of the police thriller “Training Day,” which David Ayer, who both wrote and directed “Fury,” also penned. But “Fury,” with its minimalist dialogue and occasional pacing struggles, is less of a confrontation between characters and more of a dark journey into the hellscape of war.

Which is not to say there’s not plenty of confrontation. Mr. Ayer stages several masterful battle sequences — in particular, three-on-one battle between American armor and a single German tiger tank. The movie’s massive shootouts, involving tank columns and ground forces, have a visceral beauty to them, with laserlike shots bursting across the battlefield and burning embers glowing through the smoke. Mr. Ayer’s editing expertly captures the steady pulse and rhythm of tank battles, and the thunderous sound-design sometimes makes the theater feel as if it is about to be overrun. The violence is horrific, gory and propulsive — the only response to the unanswerable questions that drive the movie and its characters.

 

TITLE: “Fury”

CREDITS: Written and directed by David Ayer

RATING: R for language, extreme war violence

RUNNING TIME: 134 minutes

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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