Now he has delivered a superlative war movie. Indeed, Fury is the finest war picture since Sam Peckinpah's Cross of Iron.
Brad Pitt as the tank commander War Daddy has never been better in this tale of the final days of World War 2, as Germany crumbles and the Nazis fight a vicious last ditch defence of the Fatherland. Unfortunately for War Daddy and his crew, the German Tiger tanks still make the American Shermans look like badly made tin toys.
War Daddy is a charismatic figure with his groovy leather jacket and boots and pin-up girls on the grips of his service revolver, which he wears in a fashionable shoulder holster. The story of Fury begins with War Daddy's assistant gunner dead in his tank (the eponymous 'Fury') and follows the arbitrary recruitment of an untrained clerk Norman (sensitively played by Logan Lerman) to take the dead man's place in the hot seat.
The rest of the tank team consists of Ayer regular Michael Peña as Gordo ('Fatso' in Spanish), Shia LaBeouf as Bible and the memorably grungy Jon Bernthal as Coon-Ass. They are a crack team, and it's a cracking cast.
What follows is a stunning depiction of the brutal combat as the US Army rolls towards Berlin. Ayer has done his research and the script is first rate. He also does a breathtakingly good job of directing. He's particularly good at inserting moments of stillness and repose between the apocalyptic battle scenes.
There is a stunning set piece in which, after bloodily taking a German town, War Daddy drags Norman into a flat where two frightened young German women (Alicia von Rittberg and Anamaria Marinca) are living. There then ensues a remarkable film-within-a-film which explores an impressive range of emotions before the American troops roll out again to — as War Daddy says — take the next town. And the next.
Ayer's supported in fashioning this masterpiece by a formidable team of artists. His cinematographer is Roman Vasyanov who made such ravishing use of colour in Charlie Countryman (which also starred Shia LaBeouf). Here he has restricted himself to a much more grim and monochromatic palette — grey steel, brown mud, khaki uniforms — but his polychromatic genius blazes into life for an unforgettable nighttime battle sequence.
Steven Price who composed a masterful score for Gravity provides the music here, which features brooding vocals from a chorus and appears to incorporate the ringing sound of spent cartridge cases spilling onto the metal floor of the tank during a desperate battle.
A dark, bloody, violent film full of carnage. And also a classic. If you don't think you'll find it too upsetting, you must see it. I've seen it three times and now, writing about it, I find myself wanting to see it again.
And, whatever you do, don't miss the marvellous end credits. The brilliant, graphically-striking use of newsreel footage once again calls to mind Peckinpah's Cross of Iron, which had a similarly splendid title sequence.
With the savage, bloody and memorable Sabotage (which was reminiscent of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia), David Ayer seemed to be aspiring to the crown of Sam Peckinpah.
With Fury he is beginning to seem worthy of it.
(Image credits: Ace Show Biz.)