Repeat after me: “War is hell.” Now keep repeating that for over two hours and by the time you’re finished you might have some idea as to the cumulative insights gathered in David Ayer’s turgid World War II tank drama. It opens with U.S. tank commander Sergeant Collier (Brad Pitt) stabbing a man in the eyeball, which, I suppose, is some kind of clever performance of the title of Ayer’s preceding directorial effort, End of Watch. But I had to review Fury, so I kept on watching, as bodies were crushed to pulp under tank tread, as men on fire blew their brains out, as prisoners of war were repeatedly executed, as women are humiliated and surrender their bodies to invading soldiers because they know they have no choice. (I’ll let you decide how that differs from sexual assault.) Mayhem without energy, these dour scenes don’t even have the crassness to be perverse. What it has instead and in droves is this appalling, pretentious mixture of misanthropy and sentimentality, with endless peanut-brained justifications for superfluous raping and killing. There’s a scene in which a newbie (Logan Lerman), already traumatized by having to clean to clean up the bloody interior of the tank and discovering a sizable chunk of someone’s face, is escorted by Collier into a room littered with Nazis who suicided in anticipation of the Allies’ arrival. As though speaking on our behalf, the newbie asks, “Why are you showing me this?” And Collier, as though speaking on Ayers’ behalf, answers, “Ideals are peaceful. History is violent.” This is the zenith of what passes for wisdom in Fury.
If Ayer’s aim is to remind us of the infernal horrors of what many consider a just war (something that, for the record, countless, infinitely superior films have accomplished before this), I suppose he’s succeeded, but he deflates whatever value such a statement may possess by simultaneously constructing scenarios in which his characters are made to seem heroic, striking heroic poses, saying heroic things to the strains of heroic music. Which is to say, Fury is a dunderheaded apologia for war crimes, a morally inept work of grotesque nonsense exploiting historical suffering for the sake of pulpy so-called entertainment.
Fury is a fairly appropriate title (American Tank might have served just as well), but Ayer’s definition of fury has much overlap with stupidity or blunt nihilism. Collier proudly declares that he once promised to keep his crew alive, yet the film ends with an act of utterly gratuitous violence, a quasi-Wild Bunch climax that’s sure to get everyone butchered for absolutely no good reason. It’s April 1945, the war is nearly over, a mechanical failure stalls Collier’s tank at a country crossroads somewhere in Germany, hundreds of Nazis are spotted coming their way. Outnumbered and outgunned by a colossal margin, Collier’s crew of five could easily hide out in the woods, but instead choose to hold their ground for no apparent reason other than to keep killing and keep getting killed, to get that body-count as high as possible even when the war’s outcome is all but secured.
That Ayer has managed to make a film even stupider than End of Watch is some kind of achievement. That he manages to exacerbate that stupidity with snatches of scoring from The Omen is almost, but not quite, impressive. Misguided in the extreme and weirdly boring, there is no genuine audacity here, and certainly no nobility. Of interest to tank enthusiasts and Shia LaBeouf completists only.