Fury (2014)     ★★★★

War is (entertaining as) hell.

Director David Ayer had a banner year in 2014, first with his criminally under-appreciated Sabotage in March, which to me will always be Schwarzenegger’s true comeback role, and now with Fury, a masterfully filmed World War II actioner about an American squadron fighting through Germany in a tank which bears the titular name painted on its turret. Ayer doesn’t really have anything new to say about war, just like his screenplay forTraining Day had nothing new to say about police corruption orSabotage had nothing new to say about the Drug Enforcement Agency, but he understands the dynamics of male camaraderie, something which made Sabotage remarkably watchable, though understandably winning over an audience with a group of crooked government agents is much more of an uphill climb than with a group of soldiers killing Nazi fucks.

Brad Pitt and Shia LaBoeuf are both on their A-game here, and better than they’ve been in years. When a character screams at another, “you feel that? that’s war” the loss communicated can be felt because the characters are real and believable. Ayer’s reliance on horrific scenes of graphic violence, like tanks popping heads like grapes, and pieces of a human face lying around are less about constructing an argument against war, than they are about strengthening the bonds between the soldiers who are forced to share the tiny space inside a tank (or the horrors of war) until it becomes all the space they need. And in that bond is where Ayer’s Fury carves out its own niche in the overflowing genre of war pictures that linger far too often on the wages of combat and the psychological consequences. By the time the nail-biting final half-hour rolls around I was so thankful I wasn’t being preached to, that feeling alone ramped up the thrill ride until I too just wanted to see how many fascist assholes they could take out.

The give and take of such an approach is an unfortunate insistence on the laws of poetic justice, where Logan Lerman’s character, the audience surrogate for experiencing the horrors of war, is given a character arc that is just beaten into you like a dead horse, and I patently disagree with where his character ends up. But luckily Fury decidedly avoids the kind of treacly moralizing of lesser films like Saving Private Ryan that it doesn’t cast a stain over the entire film. And for that reason it likely isn’t going to win any Oscars. Fury is a popcorn WWII film through and through, and one of the only films of its kind that doesn’t try to saddle its audience with the entire weight of the human condition, and because of that I could see myself happily watching it again and again.

The Verdict: Rave