One can spot the prevalent themes of a David Ayer film without having to look too closely. There’s the camaraderie of men, the strains of a masculine-driven occupation, and the fatalism associated with that occupation. Cop or soldier, one’s fate is linked to the loyalty by which they serve. There’s simplicity to Ayer’s work that connects on a gut level, achieving a measure of gravitas through its gritty vernacular. Yet to call Ayer’s work simplistic would be a disservice, as with End of Watch and now Fury, he has shown a deft hand in conveying his themes on a formal level: intrepid ideologies are visualized in an oppressive and oft times gruesome manner in Ayer’s enterprises.
The titular Fury refers to a World War II tank handled by Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) and his brigade of war-torn misfits. The carriage is a battered beast, and in the last days of war, is hardly in optimal condition. But the crew trudges along, killing Nazis, and accepting their roles as cogs in a machine. Following the death of a crew member, a new soldier joins: Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). He’s a walking cliché, the sort of unprepared soldier of virtue that’s reluctant to accept the different code of ethics that come with war.
Ellison’s moral hesitance is the primary narrative drive to Fury’s opening act, though to suggest that there’s a clear plot trajectory to the film would be misleading. The events of the film simply happen, underscoring the futility of war itself. The brutality of war is on full display, with Ayer purposefully neglecting to convey a sense of catharsis; this is important. In large part, one can look at a war film and suggest that its themes are meant to operate in some grander fashion, thereby delineating a picture to be an anti-war or pro-war film. Fury strips that sort of conscious self-awareness out of the equation, opting for something more primal in nature. There’s no mention of the politics that brought the films characters together. This absence of a social or political polemic is particularly refreshing for this sort of genre, where instead Ayer emphasizes character and composition.
There’s a visual sophistication to how Ayer presents his images and tie in with his thematic ambitions. Cinematographer Roman Vasyanov highlights the brutalized terrain as a patchwork of grays. The film is essentially shot in this defeated monochrome, with only fleeting images of color tossed in to signal moments of happiness. Ayer and Vasyanov also emphasize the isolation of their quintet of soldiers, rarely giving screen time to any of the films enemies or compatriots. In fact, many of the opposing soldiers are shot in silhouettes, where the enemy is never so much given a face beyond representing the evil mass that is Nazism. The final showdown between Collier’s Fury and enemy soldiers plays out like a zombie invasion, the collective mass of evil against the wheels of masculine defiance.
There’s a scene in Fury where Collier and Ellison take shelter in an apartment with two German women. The soldiers’ intrusion is a huge moral question mark, one that trades in suggestion rather than the blunt force of the rest of the film. It’s a sequence that seems to recall the misogynistic portrayals of women in Sam Peckinpah’s films - women as objects, though somewhat sympathetic ones. It’s a misfire of a scene on a moral basis, but Ayer supplants it with a strong kinetic energy that seems to intensify the longer the scene plays out. And this sort of sequence is reflective of much of the film itself: the brutality and gruesome of war may stir strong moral opposition, but there’s an aggressive quality to Ayer’s filmmaking that nevertheless makes it determinately watchable.