The longer “Fury” goes on, the more surreal it becomes. The action takes place during a single day and night at the end of World War II, but there can’t possibly be enough hours in a day to accommodate everything that happens.
Probably this was intentional on the part of writer-director David Ayer (“End of Watch”). Ayer’s goal here seems not so much a slice of realism but a distillation of hell, in which each new horror lasts long enough to prepare us for the next one.
Our world is a U.S. Army tank in Germany in April 1945. The leader of this crew is Don Collier (Brad Pitt), whose unsentimental ways have kept his men alive since North Africa.
Most of them, anyway — as the film begins, a baby-faced typist named Norman (Logan Lerman) is abruptly conscripted to take the place of the soldier just killed inside the tank. Norman’s first job is to clean up the remains of his predecessor.
It’s his journey from hesitant newbie to fierce killing machine that occupies much of the battle-filled day. The other crew members include a sad-eyed Bible-thumper (Shia LaBeouf), a hair-trigger redneck (Jon Bernthal), and a sociopathic driver (Michael Pena).
They cover a great deal of ground during the day, flushing out Nazi snipers, liberating a town, and settling in for a last-ditch effort to defend a crossroads. Except for Norman’s baptism by fire, these guys aren’t here to learn anything — we get the impression they’ve already been so destroyed by the war that death would be a relief.
Ayer presents all this in grueling fashion. The movie plays as though it had been designed to put the audience through as much horror as these soldiers endure.
A lot of this is skillfully done. In particular, halfway through the film, there’s a long, anxious interlude in a German town, where Collier and Norman have a meal with two women (Anamaria Marinca and Alicia von Rittberg). Where is this scene going? How bad is it going to get? In its own way, the sequence is more suspenseful than the battle scenes.
The actors are fine, with Pitt confirming that he’s improving with age. But “Fury” (that’s the name of the tank) remains pretty much a wallow in misery.
For all the craft on display, there came a point in the movie where I wondered why we were being put through this. War is a slaughterhouse, Ayer says repeatedly for 134 minutes. The message is as insistent as a blow to the head.
“Fury” (2 1/2 stars)
In the final days of WWII, a tank crew has a long day with a new member (Logan Lerman). Brad Pitt is strong as the sergeant, and director David Ayer is skillful at creating a vision of war as a slaughterhouse — but after a while you might begin to wonder about the point of this relentless misery.
Rating: R, for violence, language
Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre Mountlake Terrace, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood Cinemas, Pacific Place, Seven Gables, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor Plaza.