Shia LaBeouf did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Technician fifth grade Boyd "Bible" Swan, tank gunner in Fury.
Fury isn't a great war film, though David Ayer appears to think he's making one, the problem is his own faults as a writer and his ability with performances suggest otherwise. This is as Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal, as stereotype 1 and 2, are terrible as the hard-edged members of the tank crew, Logan Lerman is a bit underwhelming trying to do his best Jeremy Davies impersonation, and Brad Pitt, who I think I appreciated a little more on re-watch for his silent work, still is an actor who needs a great director to utilize his potential fully. Then there's Shia LaBeouf, who I've previously mentioned my change in perspective on for his work in Honey Boy so I won't go over this again, though that change began after seeing his work here. LaBeouf differs from most of the rest of the cast in that he seems to believe he's making a great war film.The thing is I think LaBeouf's role was as primed for a simplistic stereotype as on paper he's the "religious one" cliche that goes at least as far back as Boris Karloff in The Lost Patrol. LaBeouf's performance though refuses to be within such confines as he seeks to make a reality within the character of Bible. We have the opening scene where the men are reeling from a lost crew member and what LaBeouf will be doing in this role becomes evident. This as each of the men are reacting in different ways, Bible speaks towards the good graces of their existence as given by God. LaBeouf delivers these words with a fervor and conviction, but not a simplistic zealotry. There will be more towards this idea, but before that I think it essential to mention a different element just as the men go off to return to base. This as LaBeouf doesn't stay on the same note as some of his co-stars do. Although he carries within his eyes and manner, an inherent intensity that suggests the history of conflict the man has suffered, that isn't all there is to his performance.
LaBeouf excels here in finding the right balance in his work, even within crafting a more innately introverted spirit against the rest of the crew. We see this in the traveling scene though LaBeouf's work naturally segues to a bit of camaraderie as they laugh together and at Bible at more affably argues with Pitt's Wardaddy about his religious convictions. In these moments LaBeouf grants effectively the sense of the good with the bad of their experience. He shows that Bible has been through a lot, but also been through a lot with the men. He conveys in these more jovial moments the time spent with them granting a friendship even though Bible is probably the most insular of the men overall. The group is shaken up a bit with the introduction of the wet behind the ears former clerk Norman (Lerman), in which the stereotypes treat with hostility, and it seems Bible was probably written that way to do so as well. LaBeouf doesn't play it that way though rather his eyes dart towards Norman seemingly analyzing him, and even asking him if he's been "saved", he doesn't do it with the overt note this sort of fundamentalist approach is taken. LaBeouf takes it seriously within his performance asking the question as wholly genuine in the moment as it is to Bible, but again still doesn't solely define the moment. He too grants the sense of Bible taking in who this young soldier is, and what he will be within their crew. The actual battle scenes I'd say probably feature the best acting of the entire cast, and the few where anyone is really inline with LaBeouf. This is as largely everyone is "in the moment" and convey the visceral intensity of it. LaBeouf in particular excelling within the scenes, raising the tension of them by bringing the sort of hectic insanity, yet still controlled, needed in the battles.
One of the best acted sequences for LaBeouf comes as the crew arrive in the German town where most of the crew engages in pillages and some debauchery of different types. The stereotypes engaging in blunter prostitution situation, and LaBeouf carries such a power in his whole manner as he sits reading his Bible instead with the searing sense of judgement within his refusal to take part. At the same time Wardaddy has Norman take part in some higher class debauchery with some some German women in an apartment, though it might be even lower class, as it feels a bit like a Dennis Reynolds approved approach where Norman's dalliance with one of them seems perhaps a little too built upon the implication. Anyways though the stereotypes and eventually enter the apartment for a tense meal, where I have to say the scene became unintentionally hilarious for me due to the chasm between the performances. This is as Lerman and Pitt are playing the scene more akin to an action based war film like The Dirty Dozen, Pena and Bernthal, are doing something, hard to describe exactly that just seem to be completely directionless honestly, and then there's LaBeouf who granting the gravity to the scene as though he's in a film like Come and See. LaBeouf barely says anything in the scene but is amazing, even if in his own better movie, through his extremely piercing eyes. Within them conveying really all the harrowing anguish the man has been through seemingly in judgment as someone who refuses to imagine himself outside of their current situation through the sort of make believe of the meal with the women that they aren't at war. LaBeouf in the moment suggesting Bible on the brink of a complete breakdown as his work conveys a man that the act of escaping their situation seems to only make it all the more painful. This is where I can go back to LaBeouf's portrayal of Bible's religious conviction. This in as we see it LaBeouf emphasizes always in moments of something extremely harrowing happening and near death. The way LaBeouf speaks in these moments he brings a blind hope, and fittingly faith, in each word. This though in revealing Bible's manner as his religion as the only thing he can hold onto in order to allow him to cope with the insanity and death around him. Now for much of the film we see this at the distance of the way it separates Bible, however again we see the attempt at optimism in his voice and the near mania in his eyes of a man desperately holding onto it. The one scene where he connects this with the other men is when they are about to engage in a last stand, for some reason...really doesn't make much sense...I mean have it they needed to delay the SS for a particular reasons or something....anyways...LaBeouf is outstanding in this scene. This where he directly speaks his convictions to them through quoting a bible verse about a man taking the vanguard. LaBeouf speaks the words with such profound belief that he makes it a truly inspiring moment. In his eyes he grants the emotional anxiety of his upcoming demise, but also such poignant sense of the comfort the words still bring to him. This is a great performance, and the one that made me say, no I was wrong, LaBeouf did have potential after all, and here it is realized. Although even as written the film is a lot of caricatures, LaBeouf voids that making a honest and powerful portrait of a man broken by war, who goes about his trials through his faith. Is his work sometimes in scenes that aren't great? Yes, but in a way it makes his work all the more impressive as he delivers greatness even within much mediocrity.