Fury’s director David Ayer is so intimately connected with Training Day that it seems almost rude to point out that he did not actually make that film. Though Ayer wrote the culty Denzel Washington/Ethan Hawke vehicle, directing credit goes to Antoine Fuqua. Ayer’s directorial work in the shark-jumping world of Hollywood-studio filmmaking has been almost phenomenally bad, including the somnolent handheld-camera melodrama End of Watch and this year’s Sabotage, which many people consider to be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s worst film. And that’s saying something. The overall technical improvement reflected in this movie is Fury’s most phenomenal aspect.
Fury is not a great film, but it has a great nucleus. Roughly halfway through the nonstop horror of tank warfare behind German lines, our four antiheroes led by Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), a case-hardened tank commander, enter a small German town and get a debauched bivouac. Wardaddy takes Norman (Logan Lerman), a newbie who he has just brutally initiated into war’s privilege of slaughter, into the home of an elegant townswoman and her young niece. We know most of what’s possible but can’t guess which way it might go. Just when we relax into Wardaddy’s seemingly innocent intentions, the rest of his murderous crew shows up.
Great war movies ride a razor’s edge, the thin line between exhilaration and horror, and this movie does that well — it’s hard to get out of your head afterward, too. The film’s perfect emblem is Grady (Jon Bernthal), who comes off both crudely demented and soulfully polite — he embodies the American soldier. What’s missing here is any resolution to either embrace the horror or make a final stand for war as an unjustifiable evil. Instead, Ayer takes another path to the end that has to do with heroism and fear. But the best line in the movie belongs to Wardaddy: “Ideals are peaceful; history is violent,” he says. It’s too bad that this very good movie didn’t run with its own terrifying assessment. Soldiers aren’t heroes or cowards; they’re people forced into horrible actions who sometimes come home knowing way too much about history.