I admit to being a tank geek. I love the big mechanical monsters, so when I saw the first trailer for Fury staring Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf right away I noticed they were using a real M4A3E8 I just had to go. But I'm also a bit of history geek, and have read extensively how tanks are used and their strengths and weaknesses in combat. Fury is first and foremost a war movie, which means total fidelity to history cannot be expected. It's fiction. Nevertheless, though it follows the expected tropes Fury is a pretty good war movie and much more faithful to reality than expected.
The story is set in the spring of 1945 and Germany was beat. Pretty much everyone but Adolf Hitler knew it, and deep down he probably knew as well. Possibly because of the false yet popular "stab in the back" explanation for Germany's defeat in World War I (along with fear of the Russian hordes) Germans kept fighting. The German Army of 1945 was not the same army that conquered France in 1940. Years of war had left a corps of extremely skilled veterans leading poorly trained old men and teenagers, many of whom would have been considered unfit for service when the war began. Excellent leadership aside, the quality of the German fighting man had declined sharply due to losses while the American soldier was far better than he had been when Americans first fought in North Africa in 1942. In addition, German soldiers has little to no fuel to maneuver with. The Luftwaffe had been thoroughly beaten before D-Day and almost never took to the sky thanks to fuel shortages. Like I said, Germany was toast. But they hadn't surrendered yet and while many German soldiers were quite inclined to surrender when they thought they'd survive others fought fanatically in defense of their homeland.
Ahead be spoilers!
The story begins with a common trope, a totally green soldier Norman (Logan Lerman
) is assigned to veteran crew commanded by Wardaddy (Pitt). Their Sherman tank is named Fury. They've been fighting together for a while are highly skilled but they've just lost a crewmamber, probably to a panzerfaust
. Wardaddy is a bit of an enigma as he's been fighting since North Africa in 1942 and made clear in a later scene that Fury isn't his first tank. Norman is a clerk, who has never even been a to armor
school but war produces casualties and at such times typing skills mean far less than the ability to operate a machine gun. A Sherman is crewed by five people, commander, gunner, loader, driver and assistant driver, who is sometimes called the bow gunner (Sherman tanks had a hull mounted .30 caliber machine gun). Norman is to become bow gunner, which is appropriate because any green tanker would start there as it is the least demanding job. There is horrifying scene where he is asked to clean up his position including removing a large section of the dead tanker's face. But then they have a mission and are moving out and he is now expected to gun down anything he sees moving through the woods on a road march.
In a world full of kids with panzerfausts even bow gunners can make the difference between life and death. Norman sees what seem to be kids in the woods and doesn't shoot. As a result the platoon commander's tank is destroyed needlessly along with its crew. Norman gets a lot of well expected abuse but they arrive in time to conduct a town assault. Note how the soldiers cluster behind the tank using it as a sheild. (there would have been a telephone mounted on the back of Fury so the infantry commander and Wardaddy could talk). They do a pretty good job of showing how a tank/infantry team would have conducted a town assault.
There's a long interlude in a town where they do a decent job of showing what happens when an army takes over an enemy town. They sack it. By now you know Fury is a pretty gritty film, but here they go a bit farther. Wardaddy all but forces Norman to shoot an SS prisoner because he thinks the kid needs to get over his fear of killing. This isn't so convincing though even ultra-nationalists need to know that shooting prisoners was a fairly common practice in World War II by all countries and America was not exempt. Same for rape. Still, the sacking of the town seems mild by sacking standards. But then he shows a paternal side. He finds a pretty German woman in an apartment and enjoys a family style dinner and sets Norman up with a really pretty German girl played by Alicia von Rittberg. Wardaddy is more complex than expected. He speaks fluent German is is clearly far more educated than your run-of-the-mill sergeant though the film makes no attempt to fill in his backstory. In fact backstory is pretty much ignored for all characters. The rest of the crew finds them and is quite rude to the Germans, implying rape to come though it does not. Wardaddy calms them and then they're called to duty.
This is where the accuracy really breaks down. There's hole in their lines and a plane has spotted a good sized German column headed right for it. Wardaddy and his platoon of four tanks is sent to block it. My problem is centered on how they send four tanks without a bit of infantry. Wardaddy doesn't even ask for a platoon. Let it be known that a platoon of tanks and a platoon of infantry together are way, way more dangerous together than either separately. Any veteran would know this. So not sending any is simply a plot device to set up the final battle.
On the way they are ambushed by a real Tiger I. The battle is well conducted using smoke and maneuver to beat a tank that outguns and out armors any Sherman. My quibble here is though they use smoke a real tanker would also have used incendiary (white phosphorous or willie pete) ammo on the Tiger. It won't penetrate, but starts small fires which can bleed through cracks in the Tiger's armor, whose welding and workmanship were not always up to what one would expect of German engineering. Sometimes willy pete caused German crews to bail out, though I'm quibbling here. The scene really was well constructed and serves its purpose of leaving Fury and it's crew alone in the face of an overwhelming enemy force.
They hit a mine. It's seen as an annoyance and they begin immediate repairs which is exactly what an experienced crew would do. But the enemy is too close. They'll never finish in time. Now they must choose to fight a suicidal battle or flee and leave the road open to the hospitals they're protecting. Thanks to Pitt's Wardaddy refusing to leave, the crew stays as well setting up the final battle.
I have problems with this. A tank on the move could fight a fine delaying battle. A stationary tank surrounded by enemies is a large coffin. Even a clever plan doesn't buy more than a few minutes against veteran leadership. German soldiers of early 1945 were poorly trained but their leaders have survived battle after battle. Trust me, they knew how to fight tanks. This is also a lost opportunity. It would have cost more, but would have been much more realistic and potentially interesting. Fury's final battle is fine as movie battles go, but could have been better.
Still, I rather enjoyed the film. It's a good war film and the tropes are handled lightly enough they don't annoy. The historical accuracy is pretty good for a movie, though Fury is no documentary. The cinematography is good enough to make it worth seeing on the big screen. Many things were much clearer than they would be on even a good TV. I recommend the film. 3.5 out of 5 stars.