In the opening moments of "Fury," David Ayer's film about the nasty, brutish business of war, a knife-wielding American soldier named Wardaddy ambushes a German officer. It isn't enough to stab his victim in the chest and heart. He ends with a flourish, piercing the Nazi's left eye with an audible squirt.
Talk about driving home a point. "Fury," named after Wardaddy's bullet-pocked Sherman tank, is determined to be not-your-father's World War II movie. That genre, born in the 1940s as a form of morale-boosting entertainment, cast Hollywood strong jaws like John Wayne in leading roles and tended to omit unplesantries like, say, putrefied corpses. "Fury" does the opposite, and even adds touches of despair and pointlessness. The action begins in April 1945, mere weeks before Germany's surrender -- but first, says Wardaddy, "a lot more people have to die."
Speaking of Hollywood types, that's Brad Pitt as Don "Wardaddy" Collier, a taciturn and literally battle-scarred tank commander whose loyal crew of miscreants are driver Trini (Michael Peña), Bible-quoting gunner Boyd (Shia LaBeouf) and redneck ammo loader Grady (Jon Bernthal). Joining them is knock-kneed newcomer Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a young typist who never imagined he'd be sent behind enemy lines to help halt a Nazi advance.
"Fury" recalls Francois Truffaut's old dictum that an anti-war film is impossible; war is simply too engaging and visually exciting to resist. Not surprisingly, what works best in "Fury" are the action sequences. Writer-director Ayer ("Training Day") does a good job of putting us inside the tank Fury, and one of the film's best scenes is a deadly chess game between several Shermans and a seemingly unstoppable German Tiger tank.
What rings false are the hastily sketched characters and the big, obvious ideas they symbolize. In one scene, Norman discovers a young beauty, Emma (Alicia von Rittberg), wearing a summer dress and fresh makeup -- a suitable outfit for representing purity, though not for hiding from American invaders. Meanwhile, American soldiers utter wise maxims like "Ideals are peaceful, history is violent," usually before lighting another unfiltered Lucky Strike. "Fury" is bloody, brutal and occasionally entertaining, but it's also full of baloney.
PLOT During the last days of World War II, a tank crew undertakes a dangerous mission.
CAST Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Peña
BOTTOM LINE For all the extra blood and brutality, this is still a macho and romanticized war movie. Pitt serves honorably in the John Wayne role.