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.
Kinda 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.