LOS ANGELES (AP) — At one point during "Fury," the World War II drama starring Brad Pitt out Friday, a tank commander's head is blown off while he's hunched outside his vehicle during a fiery battle with a combatant. "Fury" writer-director David Ayer insists he didn't include the surprise decapitation simply to shock moviegoers.
"That was a very common thing that happened," said Ayer. "There's countless stories of crews being inside tanks and then all of a sudden their commander's headless body drops into the tank and sprays blood everywhere. That was the hazard of being a tank commander, and that's why these guys were so brave."
Unlike many films about World War II, which have painted a patriotic portrait of the six-year conflict, the R-rated "Fury" instead offers an unapologetically gruesome look at one long day of battle in 1945, just weeks before the Nazis' final surrender.
From inside an M4 Sherman tank nicknamed Fury, Pitt's Don "Wardaddy" Collier leads a five-man crew deep into enemy territory where they experience — and participate in — hellish acts of war.
"This is like the PG-13 version of what real war is like," said actor Michael Pena, who plays tank driver Trini "Gordo" Garcia. "Real war is not pretty. You can validate almost everything you see on screen. The pictures that we saw were horrendous. This is just a little bit of it."
Ayer, a former U.S. Navy submariner who wrote the police dramas "Training Day" and "End of Watch," loaded up on a barrage of research before going into the production on the Sony Pictures film in England, including interviewing veterans, enlisting military experts and studying real-world war footage. While the film isn't based entirely on reality, he didn't want "Fury" to stray too far from the truth — more "Saving Private Ryan," less "Inglourious Basterds."
"In my investigation of the war, I wanted to find circumstances that would help create the world and tell the story of what these five guys faced," said Ayer. "I wasn't cherry picking horrible things just to be gratuitous. I wanted to know what this family could experience together that puts us in their shoes and tells us about that war."
Despite the film's 69-year-old subject matter, Ayer noted the conflicts that the U.S. military confronted in WWII mirror today's clashes in the Middle East.
"They're fighting a fanatical enemy that's thrown the rulebook out," said Ayer. "There are women and children in the combat zone. It's an enemy that had zero regard for human rights. These soldiers had to deal with that, make decisions and fight in that environment. The same difficulties they faced, our soldiers are facing today overseas in the Middle East."
While there are several grisly deaths depicted in "Fury," Ayer insisted there wasn't more carnage left on the cutting room floor.
"It's not like there's going to be a director's cut in six months," said Ayer. "This movie is my director's cut. Sony really understood the movie and trusted me to make it."
AP Entertainment Writer Ryan Pearson contributed to this report.
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/derrikjlang.