134 minutes / Opens today / ****
The story: In the final months of World War II, American ground forces have taken the fight to Germany. The battle-tested crew of the tank Fury - comprising Don "Wardaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt), Boyd "Bible" Swan (Shia LaBeouf), Trini "Gordo" Garcia (Michael Pena), Grady "Coon-ass" Travis (Jon Bernthal) - must adapt to greenhorn assistant driver Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). norman soon learns how vulnerable American tanks are compared with the armour of the German army.
War movies used to be about heroism and manliness. In recent times, they have been about fear, uncertainty and doubt.
The latter is not necessarily better or more interesting than the former, but the more complicated view of warfare does go some way towards resolving the moral conflict of watching bloodshed on a massive scale as big-screen entertainment.
The work by veteran of the men-in-a-pressure- cooker genre David Ayer (cop drama End Of Watch, 2012) belongs firmly in the modern-day school, made popular in films about the war in Vietnam.
The moral dilemmas of Platoon (1986) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) are worked here into a battlefront usually seen as the last "good" war fought by the Americans, a fight in which the enemy was unequivocally evil.
The sly thing here is that when atrocities happen - when German captives are shot, or enemy troops set on fire with phosphorus shells and left to burn as Americans guffaw - the audience also feels like cheering.
Have our moral senses been burnt away by battle, in the manner of the tank crew of Fury?
The process of brutalising the mind begins with the shockingly realistic violence of tank warfare. There are setpiece engagements here that stand out as the most visceral ever filmed.
Shells shriek, clang and ricochet off armour plate; men inside claustrophobically small compartments shout commands and maintain a grip on their fear knowing that a split-second advantage in ground speed, gun-loading or turret rotation is the difference between living and being cooked alive.
Not for Ayer are flashbacks to family scenes or photos of sweethearts pulled from wallets. He expects the viewer to accept the soldiers as three- dimensional beings as he pours on the horror.
All the actors are excellent, despite their thin, almost caricaturish personalities.
One is a Hispanic prone to Spanish exclamations, another is a violent redneck from Arkansa, and new guy Norman is a fish out of water and obvious grab for audience sympathy.
The final showdown at the film's climax is completely over the top, but what it lacks in accuracy of tactics, it more than makes up for in nail-biting excitement.
This article was first published on Oct 31, 2014.
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