Busywork. If don’t have a job that puts you right in the path of tedious, monotonous tasks, then you’re surely familiar with the concept from your days in school. With that in mind, you can probably recall the feelings of boredom, watching time pass in increments slower than a clock can capture. If not, you can easily force the recollection by seeing Fury, the most tedious, perfectly fine film you’re likely to see all year.
Fury is a war drama starring Brad Pitt as Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier. Set during the closing months of World War II as the Allies prepare to invade Germany, Don has to lead his crew and his tank (nicknamed Fury, natch) in a series of missions with a fresh-faced, naive typist named Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) replacing his former assistant driver. The crew has been together since the North African Campaign and is generally cold to the fresh meat.
This includes Shia LaBeouf as Boyd “Bible” Swan who more or less takes care of firing the main gun; Michael Peña as Trini “Gordo” Garcia, the tank’s driver; and Jon Bernthal as Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis, the guy who keeps Fury running and shooting. The film is prefaced with the fact that German tanks are by and large superior to American tanks, and then we’re off and running.
In these opening moments, the film is its strongest. It opens in exceptional form with a quiet and brutal showing of base surviving. It’s cold and clinical from its dioramic appearance to the finely tempered coloring of the scene, leading to the equally telling homecoming that feels more like walking among rubble than it does soldiers.
This is also where we witness the best acting the movie has to offer. LaBeouf as a religious soldier bears a barren, steely gaze in his eyes that truly communicates the single most important quality of these men: they are beaten. Not defeated and not losers but they have been smashed and ground up by simply surviving over and over again. And this look shows up in everyone else, though the belied stoicism from Pitt’s Don Collier layers in additional intrigue.
But Fury quickly forgets to go anywhere beyond that. At a certain point in the film, Pitt delivers the following: “ideals are peaceful; history is violent.” In other words, war is hell. It’s a concept we’ve become familiar with to the point of numbness. After so much media exposure to the idea, the effect has come has far as it can go without actually putting the audience in a real war. It is a nail that has been hammered a hundred times now, and that’s all it has.
As the movie goes on, characters fall into tropes as they are convenient and never leave. Don is a harsh but learned leader who takes care of his own, living by sink-or-swim and dying by the sword, though he has such a gooey center that he also just might pick you flowers on his way over. Grady is a drunkard, abusive idiot who only knows how to be a drunk and an idiot. Trini comes and goes as comic relief and Boyd is the religious man who never gives up on faith.
And then there’s Norman. He’s an enlisted typist who somehow gets assigned to replace the best gunner in the 2nd Armored Division (as Don puts it in one of his welcoming encounters). He’s never killed, hasn’t been trained to use a weapon, and isn’t entirely convinced he should even be near the front. The film effectively charts his growth into a weathered Nazi-killing machine as he stumbles through battle after battle and conversation after conversation with his sergeant.
The problem is that the turn is so incredibly predictable that it’s painful. Worse than that, it’s unearned. That perhaps is the only truly wrong thing that Fury does in its two-hour runtime. Norman’s transformation doesn’t even feel forced so much as it feels casual and bland. At least forced would communicate effort. And when you throw in the pit stops Norman has as he reveals more about the crew and those living adjacent to the war, it feels incredibly token.
Spread out over the course of 134 minutes, it feels tedious. It’s doubtful there was anyone in the theatre who did not know how the film was going to end, and as more and more war film clichés trickle through the screen and into our brains, a literal checklist appears in your eyes. And you can see as writer and director David Ayer ticks off each box with each passing minute while the audience slogs through this cinematic busywork.
The end itself is just an aggregation of action tropes, including one of the biggest and perhaps most annoying of recent years. (Don’t click this link if you don’t want anything ruined. It just goes to a TV Tropes page, but just from that, it can only confirm your suspicions. And yes, it was also tired in the movie.) Even as dozens and dozens of bodies piled up, yawns escaped mouths while gasps were nowhere to be seen.
There is, however, legitimately good stuff happening in Fury. Pitt effectively does his Brad Pitt thing, but he manages to add layers to a trite archetype that saves the character from being totally written off. And the depictions of the terrors of war are quite effective when they aren’t groan inducing. The opening scenes where Norman cleans the tank is especially good.
The tank encounters are also noteworthy. When we finally get to a tank-on-tank battle, it’s hard to get out of your mind thinking that Ayer may be a player of video games. He so effectively and meaningfully captures the anxiety of fighting in and with a tank. The timing of it all, where you have to make every shot count since you might not get another one, is perfectly showcased. It is genuinely tense and a treat of a break from the stale narrative.
But still, Fury isn’t a bad movie. It’s good-looking, good sounding, and well acted with some topnotch tank action. But everything else is bromidic as hell. You can hear the pen as it scrapes across the notebook in Ayer’s hand, crossing off each to-do item on his How to Make a Movie checklist. It doesn’t do any of it terribly. It just doesn’t do anything originally, either. Fury is simply uninspired.
Final Score: 6 out of 10