London Film Festival: Brad Pitt impresses in David Ayer's appropriately brutal take on World War II
David Ayer’s second film this year, following Sabotage, takes all of the contemporary grit that he shovelled into his earlier work – like 2012's End of Watch – and puts it in a period context. Set in April 1945, as the Allies make their final push to end World War II, the story is centred around a Sherman tank nicknamed ‘Fury’. In command is US Army sergeant Don 'Wardaddy' Collier (Brad Pitt), who gives off the same sort of never-been-scratched aura as Robert Duvall in Apocalypse Now.
Under his watch are three long-serving soldiers – played by Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal – alongside rookie Norman (Logan Lerman), a terrified desk-clerk who has been sent to the front. Writer-director Ayer sets out his stall almost immediately when Pitt leaps off his iron beast and stabs a Nazi soldier in the eye. That, however, is just for starters: heads and limbs are blown off, bodies crushed under tanks or set on fire, throats slit. Intense doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Yet as much as Ayer’s film pushes your face into the grim blood-and-guts of war, it never glorifies it. Pitt’s performance is arguably one of his finest: he’s not just a gung-ho scalp-hunter (as he was in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds), there are layers here. A crucial scene, when he and Norman discover two frightened German women, shows the humanity beneath the battle-hardened shell. Impressive too is Lerman, acting as our way into this real-life-inspired horror show.
The finale may come off as Hollywood fantasy – think Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – but by then, you’ll be so invested in the characters and this world, you’ll scarcely care. 'That’s better than good,' says Pitt, slugging on some whisky he’s saved. Same goes for Fury.
Screening on Sun 19 Oct as the London Film Festival 2014's closing night gala. General release from Wed 22 Oct.