The Second World War movie has evolved since the star-studded extravaganzas of the 1950s and 60s about deeds of daring do.
Sam Peckinpah’s ‘Cross of Iron’ in 1977, Samuel Fuller’s ‘The Big Red One’ in 1980 and Steven Spielberg’s ‘Saving Private Ryan’ in 1998 did not pull their punches in their depictions of the brutality of war.
Neither does David Ayer’s ‘Fury’, currently blitzing multiplexes across the world.
‘Fury’ is a turbo charged supermacho story of a tank crew led by Brad Pitt’s Sergeant Don Collier during the final days of the push towards Berlin.
From the off, Ayer sets a grim tone with Collier’s slaying of a German officer on horseback.
We learn Collier and his crew – made up of Shia La Boeuf’s Born Again Christian gunner Boyd (also known as Bible), Michael Pena’s driver Garcia (nicknamed Gordo) and Jon Bernthal’s neanderthal Grady (Coon-Ass) – have just lost a colleague in battle.
Reporting back for duty, repairs to their tank and the replenishing of provisions, they are saddled with a pale, skinny, baby faced typist with no experience of combat as their fallen comrade’s replacement.
The first task given to Logan Lerman’s Norman is a stomach churning one – he is ordered by Collier to wipe clean the blood, brains and flesh splattered seat of his predecessor.
Reluctantly setting off with Norman on a mission to relieve ground troops trapped in a field under fire from better-equipped German infantry, Collier and his crew warn Lerman he is in occupied enemy territory and attackers may be lurking in all manners of disguise.
Nervous Norman must shoot on sight Nazis and anyone he suspects might be a Nazi in civvies.
Ayer is determined to show the brutality of war, mostly through the eyes of Norman but occasionally, through the eyes of the battle hardened Collier (also known as Wardaddy).
As their tank, with the word ‘Fury’ emblazoned on it, grinds its way through the muddy fields and villages of occupied Germany, we have grim set piece after set piece as the crew bickers and bonds.
But who will survive?
‘Fury’ is a relentlessly bleak recreation of the final weeks of the war that aspires to the heights scaled by Peckinpah, Fuller and Spielberg.
And that is part of its problem.
While it undoubtedly has its moments, Ayer’s movie feels tired and unoriginal – like a jigsaw using the pieces of other Second World War films.
The crew could be characters ripped out of the screenplay for ‘Saving Private Ryan’.
Pitt’s Collier is a more hardass equivalent of Tom Hanks’ paternal, focussed but slightly haunted Captain Miller, Bernthal is Adam Goldberg’s down and dirty infantryman, La Beouf is Barry Pepper’s Bible quoting sharpshooter, Pena is a more haunted version of Ed Burns’ infantryman and Lerman is a carbon copy of Jeremy Davies’ scared and whiney cartographer.
Ayer seeks and mostly succeeds in recreating the claustrophobia in Wolfgang Petersen’s ‘Das Boot’.
But there are other influences too.
Norman’s odyssey with a battle scarred and unhinged crew has shades of the Francis Coppola’s Vietnam War epic, ‘Apocalypse Now’ and the firefights, while recalling contemporary news footage of Iraq and Afghanistan, are also reminiscent of the frantic battle sequences in Oliver Stone’s ‘Platoon’ and ‘Born on the Fourth of July’
There is also a videogame feel to many of the battles – most notably ‘Call of Duty’.
Unfortunately, Ayer’s script is about as lyrical as a videogame and there really is very little that we haven’t heard or seen before in other war films.
You can see all of the twists coming a mile off and the supermacho bonding rituals of the crew – including a sequence in which Collier tries to get Norman laid – are just jaded and unconvincing.
Ayer elicits committed performances from his cast but essentially there is little meat in the script for Pitt, LaBoeuf, Bernthal, Pena and Lerman to get their teeth into.
Jason Isaacs, a fine character actor, turns up twice but is also given very little to work with as he boringly discusses battle plans with Pitt.
Ayer and his production team handle themselves well in the battle sequences and it is these that will undoubtedly draw audiences in.
A sequence where four US Sherman tanks take on a much better equipped German Tiger tank is a particularly accomplished and macabre piece of mechanical choreography.
But does ‘Fury’ deserve to take its place among the great War movies?
No because great war movies are visually inventive and at times lyrical and poignant – think of the bullets whizzing into the Normandy sea in the opening 23 minutes of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or the jaw dropping use of Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio for Strings’ in ‘Platoon’.
There is nothing of that quality here.
‘Fury’ isn’t a bad film. It is entertaining in parts but its script is mostly as cumbersome as the machines it celebrates.
But when set against Yann Demange’s taut and very original ’71’ about a British soldier stranded in Belfast during the Troubles, it seems very stale indeed.
(‘Fury’ opened in UK and Irish cinemas on October 24, 2014).