Writer/director David Ayer has had the theme of men doing their duty to varying degrees running through his work, from his script for Training Day to the gritty cop movie End of Watch. So perhaps it's only natural that the former US Navy serviceman should set a movie in wartime, where duty frequently involved the ultimate sacrifice.
To this end he's assembled a great cast and delivered a film which doesn't stint on action while also looking at the personal consequences of conflict.
Set in April 1945 as Nazi Germany fell apart but the Wehrmacht were still fighting to the death, Fury follows the crew of a Sherman tank as they try to stay alive in the chaotic final month of the war. The tank's nickname gives the film its title, with Brad Pitt playing Don 'Wardaddy' Collier, the commander who's led his crew from North Africa through Europe and has the undying loyalty of the men under him.
The audience surrogate is raw recruit Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), a clerk who's never seen the inside of a tank before and whose first duty is to wipe away the blood and brain tissue of the man he's replaced.
It's an old and trusted narrative device, as through Norman's eyes we can see how his fellow crewmen - Shia LaBeouf's Bible-quoting psychopath, Jon Bernthal's primal Southerner and Michael Pena's earthy Hispanic - have been moulded if not warped by what they've seen and done. However, Pitt's character is the most intriguing, capable of moving from outright savagery in the opening scene to moments of surprising tenderness, never more so than in a touching and quite long sequence when he and Norman regain touch with their humanity by having a meal with two German women after a town has surrendered.
As a war movie Fury does occasionally feel as if it's been cogging from the Big Book of War Movie Cliches, but Ayer handles the action set-pieces extremely well, even if the climactic battle between Pitt's tank and an entire SS regiment does have a touch of the computer game about its staging. That said, the sheer terror of what it must have been like inside a claustrophobic, sweaty and fear- riddled vehicle under fire is extremely well delivered, giving Fury some of the edge of the classic Das Boot, which is praise indeed.
Horror. Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Hayley McElhinney, Daniel Henshall, Barbara West. Directed by Jennifer Kent. Cert 15A
Tis the season for ghosties and ghoulies to come crawling out of the dark to scare the bejaysus out of us and in recent weeks there's been no shortage of movies aiming to do just that. Last week we had the by-the-numbers ghost train ride of Annabelle and next week sees Ouija hit the multiplexes, but The Babadook is a different class of beast entirely.
Written and directed by Australian actor Jennifer Kent, the film does adhere to the basic rules of the horror genre but adds discreet but telling touches which elevate it way above standard jump-shock tactics which have become the default setting for far too many contemporary chillers. Essie Davis gives a terrific performance as Amelia, a widowed nurse who's finding it difficult to cope with her hyperactive son Sam (Noah Wiseman, also excellent), a six year-old obsessed with magic who creates weapons to deal with the monsters he claims are lurking in the dark.
With Sam causing problems at school, Amelia becomes increasingly alienated from friends and family, with matters taking a distinct turn for the worse when she reads her son a story about a creature called The Babadook, the very arrival of the book itself being something of a mystery.
Within days there are strange occurrences around the house - and even away from home, which make things even scarier - and she herself begins to fear that things are not merely figments of her son's imagination.
Rather brilliantly, Kent keeps the shocks and musical cues to a bare minimum, letting the viewer become thoroughly involved in a story of a woman gradually unravelling in the face of terrifying events. There are elements of The Shining and Repulsion scattered throughout proceedings, but what's been delivered here is a potent brew of psychological terror mixed with a genuinely spooky story, making The Babadook easily the best horror movie of recent years.
JIMI: ALL IS BY MY SIDE
Music/Biopic. Starring Andre Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots, Andrew Buckley, Ruth Negga, Adrian Lester. Directed by John Ridley. Cert 15A
12 Years a Slave screenwriter John Ridley's plan to bring the story of Jimi Hendrix's rise to fame has been long in the making but, alas, suffers in two crucial areas. Firstly, the refusal of the late guitarist's estate to sanction any of his music for the film hampers it from the off while the constant use of lookalikes to represent the likes of Eric Clapton, members of The Beatles and Rolling Stones makes the recreation of the elite London rock'n'roll scene in 1966/67 look faintly farcical.
That said, Outkast's Andre Benjamin does a remarkable job as the mercurial musician, spotted in New York by Keith Richard's girlfriend Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) and brought to London by former Animals bassist Chas Chandler (Andrew Buckley), where he begins a stormy relationship with Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell). Unfortunately, for all Benjamin's fine work All is By My Side is one long string of such cliches and counts as a major disappointment.
Drama. Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Ifans, David Dencik, Toby Jones, Sam Reid. Directed by Suzanne Bier. Cert 15A
Something appears to have gone badly wrong with Suzanne Bier's adaptation of Ron Rash's acclaimed novel of love and corruption in the South Carolina of the late 1920s. You've got a fantastic cast, with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper having proven onscreen chemistry, yet the film sat on a shelf for almost two years and seems to have been edited by several committees working independently of each other.
As a result, the story of would-be lumber magnate George Pemberton (Cooper) and his strange, controlling wife Serena (Lawrence) resembles something you'd expect to find on the outer fringes of some TV channel specialising in amped-up melodrama and period hokum. A dreadful disappointment.
Romantic Drama. Starring Lily Collins, Sam Clalfin, Christian Cooke, Jaime Winstone, Tamsin Egerton, Suki Waterhouse. Directed by Christian Dittor. Cert 15A
If you've seen the trailer for this adaptation of Cecelia Ahern's second novel then you probably needn't bother forking out for a ticket as they more or less signpost just how the story pans out. Lily Collins does a decent enough job as Rosie, a fiesty girl whose life takes a bad turn following an indiscretion at a debs dance, preventing her from joining her childhood friend Alex (Sam Clalfin) at college in Boston. Gosh, who knew that they'd actually fancied each other all those years and could they possibly get over some terrible relationships and utterly implausible plot devices (one, in particular, will have any bloke dragooned into seeing this in absolute knots) to find each other by the final scene? Go figure.