Why haven't there been more war movies set in an Army tank? Aside from 1943's Sahara and 1970's Kelly's Heroes, I have a hard time coming up with any. Maybe it's because unlike soaring fighter jets or loaded-for-bear battleships, these lumbering beasts of burden aren't exactly the flashiest pieces of military hardware. They're the grunting workhorses of combat: 30-ton steel sardine cans on plodding track wheels that make the cramped confines of a submarine look downright roomy.
That stifling sense of claustrophobia hangs over almost every scene in David Ayer's new WWII film, Fury. Set in April 1945 as the Allies are advancing into Nazi Germany, where the soon-to-be-defeated Hitler is digging in his heels and mounting one final desperate push, the movie tells the story of a battle-scarred American tank unit. Led by Brad Pitt's stoic Sgt. Don ''Wardaddy'' Collier, this band of brothers has been through hell together from Africa to France, Belgium, and now Germany. Their long march is almost over, but looking at their grime-caked faces and haunted, thousand-yard stares, you'd never get the impression that they're on the winning side.
As the film opens, the unit has just lost a member of its five-man crew and takes on a replacement, a terrified and ill-prepared combat virgin (The Perks of Being a Wallflower's Logan Lerman), who's been plucked from the steno pool and sent to the front line. We've all seen these olive-hued types before: the tough-as-nails leader with a hidden streak of compassion (Pitt), the wide-eyed innocent (Lerman), the Southern-fried loudmouth (The Walking Dead's Jon Bernthal), the soft-spoken grunt (Michael Peña), and the Scripture-quoting gunner (Shia LaBeouf). The problem is, Ayer, the writer and director of such existential macho action flicks as Harsh Times and End of Watch, isn't interested in giving his characters more than one note to play. It's as if they walked out of an old Sgt. Rock comic. Pitt, for instance, could've used a scene like Tom Hanks' in Saving Private Ryan, where we learn something anything about his life back home and what he's fighting for besides the Stars and Stripes. Instead, Fury (the title comes from the name of the tank) just plods from one brutal, bloody combat scene to the next. And while these orgies of violence are staged with tense, gruesome precision (especially the film's climactic, Wild Bunch-esque last stand), they don't convey much beyond what we already know. Namely, that war is hell. Message received. C+