David Ayer’s ‘Fury’ goes beyond the war movie cliché

It’s easy for a war movie to become cliché and unoriginal.

It’s difficult to avoid the same common story arcs and pretentious themes of “war is violent and unforgiving.”

David Ayer, writer/director of “Fury,” seems to know this. He doesn’t try to rewrite World War II like Tarantino or recreate historically iconic moments like “Saving Private Ryan.”

Rather, Ayer uses World War II more as a prop. Yes, it’s a time-period war piece, but underneath the grit and gore, there are two intertwining themes of completely separate genres: a teenage coming-of-age tale and a home-invasion thriller.

Set in April 1945, just a few months before the end of WWII, Norman (Logan Lerman) is forced into the duty of assistant driver of an American war tank appropriately named “Fury.”

Formerly a clerk, Norman has no experience using weapons, let alone operating a tank.

The crew of said tank, captained by Don (Brad Pitt), is extremely tight-knit.

The five-man team is topped off by Boyd (Shia LaBeouf), Gordo (Michael Peña) and Grady (Jon Bernthal). Everyone here could’ve easily fallen into the trap of caricatured stereotypes, but each actor plays to his strengths so articulately that it seems quite genuine.

Pitt is the confident, fatherly leader, Peña is the wisecracking source of comic relief and Bernthal mirrors his former “Walking Dead” character Shane almost to a tee.

LaBeouf, though, is a revelation.

Formerly “retired from acting,” LaBeouf gives by far his best performance to date and maybe the best acting performance of 2014.

His character Boyd “Bible” Swan is the Bible-quoting technician of the tank, but he isn’t some over-the-top “PRAISE JESUS! AMEN!” Protestant.

LaBeouf comes across as reserved and gentle, or at least as gentle as a military man can be.

The torment and anguish that this war has bestowed upon him are present in his eyes.

Boyd is a knowingly sinful man and you can see it eating away at his core in every word, glance and gesture.

In certain moments, his eyes swell with tears more than a set of eyes should be allowed to.

And then, at the very moment when we are convinced that we are watching merely a ghost of a man, LaBeouf’s joy and awe of life shine through. He is absolutely fantastic.

The tank battles in “Fury” feel surprisingly original.

Tension builds steadily, as the opposing tanks plod forward and then circle each other as a soldier desperately tries to turn the enormously protruding gun into proper position in sufficient time.

It’s the war movie equivalent of watching “transformers” and “decepticons” fight in slow motion, and I mean that in the least back-handed way possible.

Norman’s coming-of-age arc could be seen as commonplace in the war-movie canon.

There are the stereotypical instances where we see the fear and innocence swirling about inside him as he’s hardened by the hyper realistic violence and cruelty of war.

For example, Norman scrapes a literal human face out of the interior of the tank and we see his disgust.

The difference between the regret of his first kill and the apathy of his sixtieth is obvious.

The uniqueness of his loss of youth and innocence happens in between these war benchmarks.

We see him instantly fall in love, possibly lose his virginity and have his heart broken by a young German girl in a matter of minutes on screen.

These few minutes have the classic elements of a teenage comedy.

Norman is able to have his “cute,” awkward moments after first sex, dealing with jesting from his buddies, just as any protagonist in a John Hughes film would.

Don (Pitt) becomes like a father to Norman, while the rest of the crew serves an uncle-like role.

We see them begin to shape Norman as a man, and the banter between the gang provides for some of the best instances in the entire film.

The last half hour of “Fury” feels identical to a home invasion horror-thriller.

Unable to accelerate and stranded inside their tank, the crew must fight off hundreds of Nazi soldiers.

In the instances where Norman or Boyd venture outside the tank amidst a reign of fire in search for more ammo, you feel the fear and urgency that you would experience in a horror movie, rather than what you’d normally encounter in a war film.

Ayer’s final shot of the tank, which is straight from the horror genre’s toolbox, is pretty damn powerful.

In such a scene, he focuses on winning the battle and not the war, which surprisingly isn’t a bad thing.

In fact, it’s the kind of moment that keeps “Fury” from turning into another run-of-the-mill WWII narrative.