It’s April, 1945. Ordered by Hitler, the SS troops have set up a “fanatical resistance,” forcing civilians, including children, into battle. “The war will end soon,” says tank commander Sgt. Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt), “but before it does, a lot more people got to die.”

Collier knows about people dying. As commander of a 30-ton Sherman tank, dubbed “Fury,” he’s been three years on the move, starting in North Africa, plowing through France and Belgium, and now in Germany. He has returned to base, the only tank in the platoon still serviceable, carrying the body of his assistant gunner.

The dead man’s replacement is Norman (Logan Lerman), a clerk typist who’s been in the Army for all of eight weeks. He’s terrified of everything, including his crewmates: “Bible” Swan (Shia LaBeouf) prays every day, “Gordo” Garcia (Michael Peña) uses humor to disguise his fear, and Grady “Coon-Ass” Travis (Jon Bernthal) is determined to be a jerk to everybody.

Led by Brad Pitt, all the actors turn in stunning performances: weary of war, numb from the pointlessness of it all, but feverishly alive. “Best job I ever had,” the men laugh about their duties in the tank — and sometimes they mean it. “The tank is my home,” Collier admits. He also knows it could be his tomb.

To force Norman to face reality, Collier makes him shoot an unarmed German prisoner who stole a coat from a dead American soldier. No one interferes. The America G.I.s are beyond caring what happens to one German soldier. Morality isn’t ambiguous; it simply doesn’t exist. “We’re not here for right or wrong,” Collier growls at Norman. “We’re here to kill them.”

As if it were a flickering mirage, David Ayer’s film wavers between cynicism and hope, between the best in human beings and what is the most venal. The battleground scenes are huge dioramas of horror — soldiers and civilians dying in the most undignified ways, no warning, no one holding their hand, bodies crushed underneath the grinding tanks, hanging from light posts, buried in bomb rubble. It’s gory, yes, this is war, but it’s not gratuitous — it’s as though all the scenes were taken from Goya’s sketchpad, the awfulness seen for what it is: depictions of evil, not glory.

When the troops invade a town, Collier and Norman rush into an apartment looking for snipers — and instead they find two frightened women (Anamaria Marinca and Alicia von Rittberg). In these homey quarters, the men seek reminders that they used to be men who loved music and meals served on china plates. It’s a pitifully exquisite scene, one you won’t forget for a long time.

The tank crew is given one last mission — to plunge further into enemy territory and hold an important crossroads. Swan seeks guidance from the Bible. Its pages fall open to Isaiah. “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?'” Swan reads. “Then said I, Here am I; send me …” One by one, the men agree to stay and fight.

Some negative reviews of Fury have accused it of a kind of jingoism. I find that baffling. Fury isn’t a political statement; it’s a movie. It’s an American war movie. American soldiers are the heroes because they are brave, not because they are virtuous. The SS troops are the bad guys, even though one of them does an extraordinarily good thing. Civilians, particularly women and children, are neither good nor bad: They’re the collateral damage who will suffer no matter who is the victor.

On April 12, 1945, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt died, succeeded by Harry S. Truman. On April 28, Italian partisans executed Benito Mussolini. Two days later, while the Battle of Berlin raged above him, Adolf Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker. Thousands of soldiers and civilians were killed in those last days.

Peace in Europe was declared in early May. Then the war in the Pacific escalated.

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