“Fury” contains a movie ruiner. That is, a scene or sequence so ill-advised and offensive that it calls into question all that comes before and after it.
Movie ruiners are rare, especially in Oscar-season action dramas starring Brad Pitt.
Most films sustain enough of a consistent quality throughout – bad or good – that precipitous drops do not happen.
This World War II battlefield film, though, is pretty good until it’s heinous.
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Written and directed by David Ayer (“End of Watch”), “Fury” introduces a battle-exhausted American tank crew in visceral, uncompromising fashion. Pieces of people and blood litter the tank’s claustrophobic interior, where tank commander Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) kicks his men to get their attention.
Pitt, who as of late exudes true authority on screen (in “World War Z” as well as here) looks like his face is covered in old shoe leather. He also seems to be wearing a Brando/“Godfather”-style mouthpiece that makes his face look bigger.
Or maybe it’s cotton stuffed in his cheeks. Whatever it is, it enhances his performance. There are times in “Fury” that Pitt does not even look handsome. That qualifies as disappearing into a role. He mesmerizes in “Fury,” and his performance cannot be discounted just because the picture is highly flawed.
Shia LaBeouf ingratiates as a Christian member of the tank crew who holds to his beliefs despite the horrors around him. Jon Bernthal embodies the psychological repercussions of war as the tank’s Mr. Fix It, good on a battlefield but brutish and lost away from it.
Both actors are a lot younger than Pitt, but they too look worn-out in “Fury” – appropriate for characters who have been in the tank a long time by the time this story occurs, in April 1945.
The crew is in Germany, where the Nazis are through figuratively but not yet literally. Danger surrounds the American tank in enemy territory.
Battlefield confrontations bristle with tension. A landscape littered with corpses looks unsettling but authentic.
The addition of a baby-faced clerk-typist, Norman (Logan Lerman), to the tank crew, to replace a veteran who has been killed, is a cliché. And Lerman, who was so expressive as a high schooler in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” seems bland here.
But you stay with combat-newcomer premise because it yields a fraught moment in which the commander forces the young man to confront what he must do now as part of warfare. And it no longer involves mastering the “QWERTY” keyboard.
Then comes the movie ruiner. And I am going into some detail, because the filmmakers did the spoiling by putting it on screen.
After the tanks and other Allied forces enter a German village, the commander and Norman enter an apartment where movement has been spotted. There they find a terrified German woman (Anamaria Marinca) and a younger woman, Emma (Alicia von Rittberg).
“Fury” would have us believe that when Norman has (strongly implied but not shown) sex with Emma not much later in the sequence, the act is consensual. Even though Norman brought his gun with him into the bedroom.
To recap: Soldiers hostile to Germans enter a German home unbidden, and one has sex with a woman who has been hiding in her home from hostile Allied forces. “Fury” frames this act not as a rape, but as a respite from war, by having Pitt’s character tell the older woman not to intervene, because these kids are “young” and “alive.”
Movie ruiner. And like other wrongheaded sequences of its type, in movies before it, not self-contained. The apartment sequence’s offensiveness explodes into scenes surrounding it. The collateral damage is the audience’s suspension of disbelief.
After this sequence, Pitt’s shaved-sides pompadour starts to look too much like the haircut he wore as Nazi scalper Lt. Aldo Raine in “Inglourious Basterds.” This leads to more mental comparisons with that 2009 Quentin Tarantino movie. These comparisons never favor “Fury.”
Ayer can match Tarantino’s brutality but lacks his humor and finesse.
I didn’t know Tarantino had finesse until I saw “Fury.”
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.
Cast: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal
Director: David Ayer
Rated R (strong sequences of war violence, some grisly images, and language throughout)