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As a vision of the fag-end of war, David Ayer’s Fury is both set-piece impressive and claustrophobically exciting, with a simple and coherent story. A grief-toughened army sergeant (Brad Pitt, deploying a combination of starrish charm and unsentimental realism) and his five-man crew (including the magical Shia LaBeouf) power their failing Sherman tank through Europe in the closing days of the second world war, frequently outnumbered and increasingly agape. “Your eyes see it,” mourns one of them, “but your head don’t make no sense of it.”
And so the tank grumbles through annihilated German villages, among dumbstruck grandmothers, deserters and pandemonium, bombed buildings spilling their bricks like intestines, everything the colour of mire and ooze, with a rookie American teenage soldier on board quivering: “I can’t be here. I can’t be here . . . ” These appalling scenes aren’t just memorably staged – also is their sense that as a species we might never be warm or clean again; that we are irrevocably smeared in leaf-mulch.
Rarely does the movie over-reach itself but whenever this sort of horror begins to pall, Ayer (who wrote the excellently ruthless Training Day) offers unusual changes in pace: taking us to the inside of the Sherman, hung with iron crosses as though it were some ghoulish crib and yet as alluringly cosy as the inside of a cinema submarine. Moments spent in this capsule have the tact of a different sort of film, a chamber piece even. And then to an unexpected, almost abstractly long scene of an attempted civilised lunch. Or simply close-ups of LaBeouf’s face. Confusing authenticity with masochism – often the destiny of the young actor who started out in popcorn movies – LaBeouf apparently pulled out a real tooth and regularly cut into his cheeks with a penknife for the part. His huge, liquid girl’s eyes, one of cinema’s great new weapons, beat on your chest with every blink.
But even if, in the end, you begin to suspect that what Fury is really about is the blinding moral rectitude of a time when America was definitively on the right side – that its overwhelming (and moving) nostalgia for a time of moral superiority makes it in effect about the Good Old Days – it still ain’t half bad at all.