In the Dark with Melanie Dishman: Few flaws to get furious over in nostaglia-inducing World War II film

In the Dark with Melanie Dishman: Few flaws to get furious over in nostaglia-inducing World War II film

This is not in the same league as “Saving Private Ryan,” but like that World War II film, this one also deals in graphic, visceral realism that gives it more weight than the old “B” war pictures that obviously inspired it. Call it “five guys and a tank” for the quasi family of men trapped inside the metal bucket called a Sherman tank in the final days leading to the end of the war.

Led by their tank commander nicknamed Wardaddy (Brad Pitt), the war weary team is forced to take on private Norman Elliot (Logan Lerman), who has never experienced combat, just as they are making their final push across Germany. With pivotal battles ahead and limited resources, they are given the mission to hold back the German troops before they can cross the Allied supply line.

The others — all with revealing nicknames like Bible (Shia LaBeouf), Gordo (Michael Pena) and Coon Ass (Jon Bernthal) — are a hardened bunch of fighters inured to the gruesomeness of battle, and while they’re a pretty rough, crude bunch, director/writer David Ayers makes sure to give them all a moment or two in the film to show otherwise. These guys might be immune to all of the carnage and killing they’ve taken part in, but underneath the filthy fatigues and sweat-stained faces, they also are capable of a little human kindness.

As for Pitt, this is not the same character he played so broadly in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds,” but Wardaddy could be a distant cousin. It’s a good part for him largely due to the fact it doesn’t play to his leading-man good looks. His character is forced to be a disciplinarian, mentor, father, mother and just about everything else it takes to keep his team on focus and in that tank.

Wardaddy is your typical go-get-em, kill those Nazi pigs type found in just about every movie in this genre. Still Pitt makes you care about him. Lerman is equally as memorable as the new recruit forced to grow up in a hurry.

Word is that Ayers put all of these actors through a training period using real Sherman tanks and weaponry from World War II. It not only prepared them for the movie but also created a bond that is evident on screen. He’s fashioned a grim, gritty war drama that depicts bravery and selflessness and evokes the patriotism of pictures that were made more than 50 years ago on the same subject.

As gripping as the storyline is Ayers’ execution, which reveals the director to be as adept at action scenes that make clever use of aerial shots as well as up close scenes inside the tank that are as claustrophobic as the submarine confines of “Das Boot.” Nimble editing balances the exterior and interior action, with the only weak link being a weird, almost unsuitable score that does not do the action justice.

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