When a film purports itself to be ‘The most realistic war film ever’ it had better be able to put its money where its mouth is, and alas this could quite easily qualify as the one of the most UNREALISTIC war films of all time. Screenwriter and director David Ayer is one of the most childish writers working in Hollywood today, and his obsession with nonsensical violence evinced by his previous films ‘Sabotage‘ and ‘End of Watch‘ continues – in a normal film a character might open a box and find a new clue, or something that sparks an emotional trigger for them and a moment of reflection, in a David Ayer film that box is guaranteed to contain not only pictures of a family member skull fucking genetically modified babies but also pieces of remaining flesh tanned for personal use. He can get away with this to an extent with a war film and the associated potential for real and visceral horror, but when we see the inside of a tank at the beginning of the film and the remains of someone’s face on the metal, looking like a fried egg, we realise he just can’t help himself.
Not to say that’s necessarily unrealistic, rather unlikely granted, but it is the following which render the film silly – 1) The soldiers do not fire weapons, they fire lasers. I kid you not, green laser fire (red for the Allies) issues forth from the German troops looking for all the world like a scene from Star Wars (ironically, this is to show the use of tracer fire which helped gunners and infantry adjust their aim and was certainly used extensively by both sides in the war, it’s just been taken to a daft extreme here). 2) The tactics are at best dubious. We see three tanks versus one and the three of them just bunch together instead of trying to use both flanks. 3) Reason number 2 is taken to the point of lunacy as (this is a spoiler so you might want to jump to the next paragraph, but it was also used as the main selling point in the trailer if you’ve seen it – another thing they shouldn’t have done) we watch Brad Pitt opt for a stand-off between his immobilised single tank versus several hundred SS troops. During this event daytime becomes night in less than about forty seconds and Pitt and his four strong crew have ample time to leave and fight another day, or indeed come up with a better plan, but they all decide to stay largely because it is Brad Pitt saying they should and they are all afraid of him. It’s not heroic, or exciting – IT’S JUST FUCKING STUPID. I also have a large doubt over whether or not that tank has a 360 degree firing arc with its machine guns when the hatch is down, I rather suspect it doesn’t making the decision even worse.
The fictional story takes place in Germany toward the end of the Second World War with the very beleaguered and war weary crew of the tank ‘Fury’ receiving a new greenhorn gunner (Logan Lerman) who has never even been inside a tank before which enrages them all, and they proceed to slap him around the head at every opportunity. Lerman actually does the best out of everyone in this film for managing to react/act to the treatment he gets appropriately for his character – as a performer it can’t have been easy to temper his responses to the right level, and he consistently delivers on what is the core character arc of the story as he bonds with Pitt’s veteran whose soul has been ravaged by violence, death and stress to the dangerous brink of perhaps losing sight of himself completely. Pitt does a reasonable job of anchoring the piece but his performance is hampered by ridiculous hero worship from Ayer as well as having more than a few ropey lines of dialogue to try and do something meaningful with.
It is within the work of the wardrobe and art direction departments that a very high level of authenticity has been achieved – it looks fantastic (laser shows aside) and the tanks used were real ones from museums and collectors which are more or less the correct models for the time. The rest of the crew are played by Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal and they had to live in the tank for a week together before shooting began (LaBeouf reportedly refused to wash himself to help achieve a new level of ‘realism’. I’m surprised nobody fired real bullets at him too). Despite the egregious setbacks there is still a definite satisfaction to be gained from some of the action scenes, and here Ayer the director definitely outstrips Ayer the writer – it’s really the ludicrous and utterly forced central decision by the characters and the ensuing battle that destroys the credibility of the entire film.