Deconstructing “Fury,” or The Art of the Tank Combat movie


David Ayer’s new combat film “Fury” is, as I said in my review, a very entertaining B-movie, an old-fashioned WWII actioner of the sort Hollywood used to crank out for the generations that could never seem to get enough of WWII.

It is not “Saving Private Ryan,” though it borrows plot tropes (“keep my men alive”) from that one. It is not “The Big Red One,” with, as my friend Matt Olien likes to say, Brad Pitt in the Lee Marvin (grizzled, gruff star a bit old for the Army) role, though again, lots of plot kernels seem to pop off from that one.

Fun movie, gory, with R-rated violence that seems suggestive of first-person shooter video games. It brought to mind my first-ever chat with Jeff Bridges. He was playing video games on the set of “Tron,” the original film, and his favorite was my favorite, a primitive first-person shooter tank game called “Battlezone.” . The game’s strategies revolved around how slow a tank or its turret turns. Could you get in position to kill the other tank before it gets into position to kill you? That comes into play in one scene in “Fury.”

War movie conventions are something that we and Hollywood just don’t have the handle on the way we used to. I, for instance, was puzzled by the turret, hull shape and profile of the tank named “Fury” in the movie. After digging around, I ID’d it as a Pershing, a late-war American tank introduced because the Sherman tanks commonly deployed by the U.S. were no match for most German tanks.

There are real Shermans in column with Fury in several scenes — shorter cannon, different turrets. They look like this.

ShermanKinda dinky, rounded edges, etc. The tank in the film the studio calls a Sherman M4A3E8 borrowed from a British Museum.

And even though I visited Danville Va.’s now-closed Tank Museum many times, I defer to their expertise. Still looks a lot more like a Pershing than  a Sherman to me.  I expect, any day now, to be deluged with vets or experts in militaria correcting me. But the WWII generation has mostly died off, and certainly don’t go to war movies any more. I know. I dragged scores of vets to see “Pearl Harbor,” “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Saving Private Ryan” with me for newspaper stories. Their ranks shrank remarkably by the time the Eastwood movie came around.

What about the movie’s military components? The horrors of war are immediate — bloody, brutal, personal combat that makes men so hate their foes that “No prisoners” becomes a grunt-level practice if not official policy. David Ayer gets that stuff right. I have no doubt Germans, especially S.S. troops, were executed in the field. “Fury” is set well after the Battle of the Bulge’s Malmedy Massacre, which, contrary to a blundering Bill O’Reilly tirade a few years back, was carried out by Germans against Americans, not the other way around.

But again, we’re all further removed from that war, so the history grows fuzzier.

Ayer’s crew contends with a mine, at one point. As anybody who has ever watched a WWII movie before can tell you, mines were and are typically laid in “fields,” as in “Where there’s one, there are others.” The crew of the Fury doesn’t seem to know that.

The finale of the film has come under criticism from many critics as laughably far-fetched, a battle against impossible odds.  Agreed. Until you read reports from the ISIS/ISIL combat zone, where armed villages and units of various flags complain they are overmatched because ISIS got its hands on tanks. The guys with the tank win. They’re hard beasts for infantry — lightly armed and ill-equipped (mentally, too, in terms of training) — to kill. Why wouldn’t a tank be able to fend off overwhelming numbers of infantry, at least for a while?

Even at its most militarily suspect, “Fury” never falls to the level of Spike Lee’s laughable “Miracle at St. Anna” or even Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”

B-movie that it is, “Fury” is the greatest American tank combat movie. I remember Sherman tank battle sequences in “The Battle of the Bulge,” starring Henry Fonda among others, that were pretty good. “The Beast,” about a Soviet tank crew, captured the claustrophobia and fearful limited field of view of such fighting machines.

But the Israeli film “Lebanon” (2009) is still the gold standard. It’s “Das Boot” in a tank, and worth renting if “Fury” has whetted your tanking appetite.

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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7 Responses to Deconstructing “Fury,” or The Art of the Tank Combat movie

  1. Rob Reed says:

    Your confusion on the tank ID is because the M4 Sherman was upgraded throughout the war. The picture of “dinky tank with the rounded turret and shorter gun” is an early war M4 or M4A2 Sherman with a 75mm gun. The “Fury” tank in the movie is the later war M4A3E8 with the high velocity 76mm gun. That version also had a different turret shape to accomodate the new gun and slightly improved armor. This changes the look of the tank a bit. The 75mm and 76mm tanks were used side by side as the 76 was better for anti tank work while the 75 had better HE shells for anti infantry work.

    As to the minefield, the tank hit an Anti Tank mine. These require much more pressure to set off than an antipersonal mine. This was deliberate so that enemy infantry would walk over the mines and they wouldn’t be set off until an enemy tank (or other heavy vehcile) rolled over them. In effect, the crew had nothing to fear from the AT mines and it would be unlikely for the Germans to mix in anti personal mines on the road as that would give away the fact that their were mines.

  2. j nichols says:

    I am the President of a World War II armored division association. In my opinion, Rob is spot on about his minefield analysis. I say ‘opinion’ because his description is exactly as described by Veterans I have known personally. Unfortunately, I can’t include links as they have all pssed away. Why would Rob have to justify his information related to your article any way? You’re the journalist – you should look it up before you srart writing. You might prevent glaring mistakes like your tank ‘opinion’. Pershing? Look at the suspension, look at the turret, look at the tracks, do some research.

    • Thanks for the note. I did look it up. I checked with expert sites about a couple of things. The damage to the tank — treads only — is consistent with anti-personnel mines. I hope you are who you say you are. If not, well, shame on you. And since I have no way of verifying the many self-declared experts on this subject or that…This is a food for thought discussion post, and that’s what we’re doing.

      • j nichols says:

        No shame on me, I am. President, 20th Armored Division Association, final reunion – November 2013, Fort Campbell, KY/Clarksville, TN.

      • lew says:

        The ‘treads’ (tracks) were not the only thing damaged. There was extensive bogie and wheel damage. Your ‘expert sites’ misled you. I doubt that the crew in the movie could repair that damage.

        And, yes, you can consider me an expert.

  3. lew says:

    Yes, the Fury tank IS a M4A3E8. An antipersonnel mine would not blow off a track/bogie. It is a antitank mine. I would think anyone riding on the back of the tank might be concussed if it was a teller mine. But the Germans did have lighter antitank mines. The situation appears to be that the Germans had laid a hasty minefield to delay any enemy mobile forces and now they are counter-attacking through the area.

    The movie has plenty of mistakes. The 76mm on the M4A3E8 could punch a hole in the side armor of a Tiger I at the ranges shown in the movie. It would not have to do a “Kelly’s Heroes’ rear shot.

    The 76mm gun did not have a WP smoke round. The 75mm shermans had a very effective WP round as well as an effective high explosive round. So, the use of both models in the same platoons was often the case. Some of the shermans appear to be very early models. I doubt many tankers would have had them late in the war.

    I doubt a still mobile Tiger I would be used as a lone weapon. It is as big a blunder as the lone German HMG in ‘Saving Private Ryan’.

    The ending is absurd since the Germans could have just smoked the sherman with smoke grenades and worked around it. They would have panzerfaust models 60 and 100 and they would not have to get that close even. The Germans could have bypassed the sherman given the terrain and nightfall.

    I suppose that the whole disregard of the role of the ‘bow gunner’ should be mentioned. Not once is it mentioned that the ‘bow gunner’ is actually the radio man in the tank! His secondary role is to fire the 30 caliber bow machine gun. It is the same for German tanks. I find the whole premise that a clerk, with radio communications training, is assigned a critical position in the tank.

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