In theaters Friday, Oct. 17
2 stars (out of 4 stars)
In the very first scene, Brad Pitt retracts his bloody knife from the face of a dead German soldier and nonchalantly wipes it clean.
Go ahead and admire the gritty moment — because in this drama, historical authenticity comes at the expense of an absorbing and distinctive story. Leave the theater for an hour to sneak into a screening of Gone Girl, and you'll miss almost nothing in terms of plot development.
The focus here is the Allied Forces who invaded Germany via tanks in during the spring of 1945. (Note: This would be just before Hitler surrendered and World War II ended.) Pitt's Don Collier, nicknamed "Wardaddy," is the commander who heads the "Fury" machine. He makes it his mission to protect his crewmen (Shia LaBeouf, Michael Peña and Jon Bernthal). After an assistant driver is killed, an intimidated former clerk (Logan Lerman) joins the fray and must immediately wipe his predecessor's pieces of face off the seat.
That's just a sampling of the testosterone-fueled history lesson in why war is hell. For two hours, the tankers shoot and kill and explode and shoot and kill and explode. (All of the above is set to a bombastic musical score). There's a mind-numbing and emotionally hollow flow to all it. And this is the kind of film that must live and die on high-intensity action, as the dialogue is straight out of War Movie 101. Pitt to Lerman: "You're no good to me if you can't kill Krauts." Army sergeant Jason Isaacs to Pitt: "They murdered some good boys out there." Wait, didn't Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn recite this line trying to pick up women in Wedding Crashers?
Our heroes are equally adrift: With the exception of Lerman's character, they all come off as hard-hearted soldiers with a love for the drink and salty insults. We want to emotionally invest in these men, part of our Greatest Generation, but it's impossible to do that because their personalities are so indistinguishable. The collateral damage? A feeling of ambivalence about their respective well beings during the perilous, climactic stand-off. (Don't think this detail doesn't matter: Just think back on the agonizing pain of watching Tom Hanks et al perish in Saving Private Ryan. Saving Private Ryan spoiled us.)
Still, you can't discredit the younger actors for enlisting in this serious, throwback-style project. But for Pitt in particular, the role is a curious choice given that he already played a Southern-drawled World War II military leader in the far-superior Inglourious Basterds all of five years ago.
No doubt writer-director David Ayer (End of Watch) went to painstaking lengths in re-creating details of the period: But his ambitious efforts will just leave audiences feeling battle-fatigued.
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