David Ayer has found himself high in the geek consciousness recently with the upcoming release of Suicide Squad, which will be the second of DCs roll-out (or third, I guess, if Man of Steel is the first) of their big shared universe. He's a good choice for the fine fellows of Task Force X, with a back catalogue as a writer and director of manly films about manly men bonding and doing manly violence. I really enjoyed End of Watch, for instance, focused on the relationship between two cops, and so it was with some anticipation we stuck on Fury, about a tank crew in the dying days of World War 2.
It's April 1945 and the Allies are advancing into Western Germany, moving from liberators to occupiers (more on that later) and conscious that the war is nearly over and there is an chance that they could actually live to see the end of this thing. The opening text makes a point that American tanks were markedly inferior to German ones - which is true, although it doesn't point out how rare the German "Big Cats" were getting by this point, and it's an interesting choice to try and posture the cast as both rolling to a foregone victory, and somehow plucky underdogs. It's more odd because the film itself manages to get that balance pretty much dead right.
The film follows the crew of "Fury", 4 guys who have been together since the start of the war and one last-minute replacement that acts as our figure to gawp at the horror of it all. The plot is one you'll have seen before, at least if you've seen any number of war movies as our rookie moves through the story from potential hazard to full crew member in time for the big heroic finale. The beats are largely predictable, although well played, but in the end it's how this is done that stands out.
Fury's washed out, muted feel is again, something very much in the tone of the modern war, but the tight focus on the crew, and the claustrophobic direction of the tank's interior, makes for a gripping, tense, movie. The battle sequences especially are terrifying; with death whistling past the hull and the bark of orders, the actors getting a lot out of the technical dialogue with a mix of professionalism and terror. The tank duel towards the end of the film is especially fantastic, getting across what the opening text clumsily alludes to, and whilst the final confrontation aims for more "epic" than "realistic" the film has set its stall out well enough that it still works.
The only real mistep is the films big attempt to humanise it's characters. The shadow of Saving Private Ryan hangs over modern war movies, and this is the moment when it's influence feels the strongest, and the film feels least its own. It's also the only scene with women in it, and maybe Ayers gift for manly dialogue spoken between men in manly situations deserts him. So, the Veteran Sergeant and the Rookie go into a house and ask/intimidate the women there to make them lunch and get them hot water, and the Rookie ends up having sex with the younger of the two women, It's a strange moment - the power dynamic in the scene is all over the place, obviously, as they're an occupying force and there is the implicit threat of violence. But at the same time the film seems to want us to look at the sex as a sort of "missed connection" moment, two young people who could be dead tomorrow finding something in each other.
I'm prepared to give the film the benefit of the doubt and think that really this is the problem that the film is trying to do too many things at once - especially when the rest of the crew turn up and get creepy and horrible - but it really should have picked one tone or the other. The uncomfortable idea that you can be the "good guys" and still be treated as objects of fear and potential reprisal, and the disconnect there, is a good and important one to explore. The idea that you can make connections in war time with people you'll never see again and under the shadow of death that can be intense is also worth exploring. But the two don't mesh, and a scene that is clearly supposed to be uncomfortable in a lot of ways becomes uncomfortable because it doesn't work, not because of what it's trying to say.
That should detract from the Fury as a whole. It's a tense, enjoyable war movie, that, interactions with civilians aside, is really well acted, scripted and directed. We don't get a lot of war movies any more, and few about this phase of the Second World War, which you'd sometimes think ended at D-Day (spoiler, it didn't). So it's one misstep aside, this is well worth checking out.