TIME Behind the Photos

The Best Pictures of the Week: Jan. 23 – Jan. 30

From Kurdish fighters recapturing the ISIS held town of Kobani, Syria to the deadly attacks on Israeli forces by Hezbollah militants on the Israel-Lebanon border and life returns to normal with Ebola cases down to single digits in Liberia to blizzard Juno hitting the U.S. East Coast, TIME presents the best pictures of the week.

TIME Israel

Israel-Lebanon Border Calm Day After Escalation

Mideast Lebanon Israel
Spanish U.N. peacekeepers in an armored vehicle, patrol the Lebanese-Israeli border, in the southern village of Abbasiyeh, Lebanon, on Jan. 28, 2015 Mohammed Zaatari—AP

Israel remains on alert

(SHEAR YASHUV, Israel) — The Israeli-Lebanese border is calm but Israel remains on alert a day after the deadliest escalation since the two sides’ 2006 war.

The Lebanese National News Agency says Israeli warplanes were flying low over border villages on Thursday.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon says the military is “ready for any development” and warned against further attacks.

Wednesday’s flare-up started when the Lebanese militant Hezbollah group fired a salvo of anti-tank missiles at an Israeli military convoy in a disputed border area, killing two soldiers and wounding seven. The attack was in retaliation for a deadly Israeli airstrike on Hezbollah fighters inside neighboring Syria earlier this month.

Israel responded to the missiles with shelling. A Spanish peacekeeper with the U.N. force in southern Lebanon was also killed.

TIME Terrorism

ISIS Releases New Audio Message by Japanese Hostage

Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh, Sajida al-Rishawi
An undated photograph of Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kaseasbeh, left, and a still image from video, right, of Sajida al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman sentenced to death in Jordan for her involvement in a 2005 terrorist attack on a hotel that killed 60 people AP

The deadline has been extended

(BEIRUT) — ISIS released a message late Wednesday purportedly by Japanese hostage Kenji Goto, extending the deadline for Jordan’s release of an Iraqi would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida.

The audio was released as Jordan had offered a precedent-setting prisoner swap to ISIS in a desperate attempt to save a Jordanian air force pilot the militants purportedly threatened to kill, along with Goto.

The audio recording, in English, says the Jordanians must present Sajida al-Rishawi at the Turkish border by sunset Thursday, or Jordanian pilot Mu’as al-Kasaseabeh will be killed.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the contents of the recording which was distributed on Twitter by IS-affiliated accounts.

On Wednesday, the pilot’s father met with Jordan’s king who he said assured him that “everything will be fine.”

King Abdullah II faces growing domestic pressure to bring the pilot home. However, meeting ISIS’s demand for the release of a would-be hotel bomber linked to al-Qaida would run counter to the kingdom’s hardline approach to the extremists.

Efforts to release al-Kaseasbeh and Goto gained urgency with the release late Tuesday of a purported online ultimatum claiming ISIS would kill both hostages within 24 hours if the al-Qaida-linked prisoner was not freed.

The scope of a possible swap and of ISIS’s demands also remained unclear.

Jordanian government spokesman Mohammed al-Momani said Jordan is ready to trade the prisoner, an Iraqi woman convicted of involvement in deadly Amman hotel bombings in 2005, for the pilot. Al-Momani made no mention of Goto.

Any exchange would set a precedent for negotiating with ISIS militants, who in the past have not publicly demanded prisoner releases. Jordan’s main ally, the United States, opposes negotiations with extremists.

The release of al-Rishawi, the al-Qaida-linked prisoner, would also be a propaganda coup for the militants who have already overrun large parts of neighboring Syria and Iraq. Jordan is part of a U.S.-led military alliance that has carried out airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq in recent months.

Participation in the alliance is unpopular in Jordan, and the capture of the pilot has only exacerbated such sentiments, analysts said.

“Public opinion in Jordan is putting huge pressure on the government to negotiate with the Islamic State group,” said Marwan Shehadeh, a scholar with ties to ultra-conservative Islamic groups in Jordan. “If the government doesn’t make a serious effort to release him, the morale of the entire military will deteriorate and the public will lose trust in the political regime.”

The pilot’s family, meanwhile, is increasingly vocal in its criticism of the government.

Several dozen protesters gathered Wednesday outside King Abdullah’s palace in Amman, urging the government to do more to win the release of the pilot.

“Listen, Abdullah, the son of Jordan (the pilot) must be returned home,” the protesters chanted.

The pilot’s father, Safi al-Kasaesbeh, was part of the group and was allowed into the palace, along with his wife, to meet Abdullah.

“The king told me that Muath is like my son and God willing everything will be fine,” al-Kasaesbeh said afterward.

Earlier, he criticized the government’s handling of the crisis.

“I contacted the Turkish authorities after I found that the Jordanian government is not serious in the negotiations,” he told The Associated Press. “The government needs to work seriously, the way one would do to free a son, like the Japanese government does.”

Jordan reportedly is holding indirect talks with the militants through religious and tribal leaders in Iraq to secure the release of the hostages.

In his brief statement, al-Momani only said Jordan is willing to swap al-Rishawi for the pilot, but not if such an exchange is being arranged. Al-Rishawi was sentenced to death for her involvement in the al-Qaida attack on hotels in Amman that killed 60 people.

In Tokyo, Goto’s mother, Junko Ishido, appealed publicly to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “Please save Kenji’s life,” Ishido said, begging Abe to work with the Jordanian government until the very end to try to save Goto.

“Kenji has only a little time left,” she said in a plea read to reporters. Ishido said both Abe and Japan’s main government spokesman had declined to meet with her.

Abe on Thursday did not make any direct reference to the latest video but reiterated his condemnation of the ISIS hostage-taking.

“The heinous terrorist act is totally unforgivable,” he said in Parliament in response to a ruling party lawmaker’s question.

Later, a few dozen people gathered outside the prime minister’s official residence, holding banners expressing hopes for Goto’s release. “I have been trying to keep my hopes up and believe that Mr. Goto will return. I have this faith within me,” said Seigo Maeda, 46, a friend of Goto.

The militants reportedly have killed a Japanese hostage, Haruna Yukawa, and the crisis has stunned Japan.

Muath al-Kaseasbeh, 26, was seized after his Jordanian F-16 crashed in December near ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa in Syria. He is the first foreign military pilot the militants have captured since the coalition began its airstrikes in August.

This is the first time the group has publicly demanded the release of prisoners in exchange for hostages. Previous captives may have been freed in exchange for ransom, although the governments involved have refused to confirm any payments were made.

Goto, a freelance journalist, was captured in October in Syria, apparently while trying to rescue Yukawa, 42, who was taken hostage last summer.

ISIS broke with al-Qaida’s central leadership in 2013 and has clashed with its Syrian branch, but it reveres the global terror network’s former Iraqi affiliate, which battled U.S. forces and claimed the 2005 Amman attack.

TIME Lebanon

Israeli Infiltration Suggests Hizballah Is Having a Mid-Life Crisis

Hezbollah fighters hold their party flags and stand next to a portrait which shows their slain top commander Imad Mughniyeh, as they attend a rally to commemorate Mughniyeh and two other leaders, Abbas Musawi and Ragheb Harb, in the Shiite suburb of Beirut, Feb. 22, 2008.
Hezbollah fighters hold their party flags and stand next to a portrait which shows their slain top commander Imad Mughniyeh, as they attend a rally to commemorate Mughniyeh and two other leaders, Abbas Musawi and Ragheb Harb, in the Shiite suburb of Beirut, Feb. 22, 2008. Hussein Malla—AP

The Party of God was set up to fight Israel but is now a large organisation with a massive budget

For five years, Hizballah has vowed in fiery speeches to exact revenge for Israel’s assassination of its top military strategist in 2010. Each anniversary passed with Hizballah’s threatened attacks mysteriously foiled: operatives rolled up in Bangkok and Cyprus, and another mastermind murdered near his home in Beirut.

A recent revelation suggests the failure wasn’t so mysterious after all: a Hezbollah official responsible for the revenge attacks might have been on Israel’s payroll the whole time.

The unmasking of the Israeli spy in Hizballah’s uppermost ranks — leaked in media reports in December and indirectly confirmed over the weekend by Hizballah’s deputy leader — points to Hizballah’s biggest long-term problem: its size, wealth and power have made it vulnerable to infiltration, corruption and careerists.

The militant organization, whose name means Party of God, was founded in 1982 to resist the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon but it has grown into an entrenched and wealthy part of the Lebanese establishment. Now in its fourth decade, Hizballah has more power than its founders could have dreamed.

But no longer a compact revolutionary movement, Hizballah must now grapple with the consequences of growth and longevity. Some supporters now take Hizballah for granted while the party’s swelling ranks of cadres and fighters contain opportunists and careerists.

Hizballah has become a state in all but name. It deploys troops to fight in a foreign war in Syria, it is a power-broker in Lebanon’s national government and it struggles to satisfy constituents who have grown accustomed to a higher, and safer, standard of living. It is subject to the same temptations and vulnerabilities as Arab governments and other legacy actors in the Middle East. The intelligence war with Israel marks just one particularly colorful and acute sign of its approaching middle age.

Hizballah began to suspect it was compromised after a series of inexplicable setbacks, including the capture of two of its agents following a bombing in Burgas, Bulgaria in 2012. In order to track down the mole, Hizballah fed false information to one of its officials, Mohammed Shawraba, about weapons shipments in Syria. Israel bombed the false target and after a seven-month investigation, Hizballah arrested Shawraba.

The double agent might have foiled as many as five planned retaliations by Hizballah, according to reports that also tied him to the two most damaging Israeli strikes against Hizballah since the 2006 war: the assassinations of military strategist Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus in 2008 and of Hizballah technology mastermind Hassan Laqees in Beirut at the end of 2013.

Yet it’s the parade of related cases that have piled up since the last major conflict between Israel and Hizballah in 2006 that suggest something broader is afoot. Hizballah revealed in 2011 that it caught some of its operatives cooperating with the CIA, meeting at a Pizza Hut on the edge of south Beirut to sell Hizballah secrets to the Americans.

A trusted car dealer in southern Lebanon sold senior Hizballah officials cars that had Israeli GPS trackers in them. He was arrested by the party in 2009.

Another Lebanese man was revealed to have worked as a spy for the Israelis, monitoring traffic on key roads to the Syrian border.

A financial scandal erupted at the same period, in 2009, when a Ponzi scheme collapsed and erased the savings of many of Hizballah’s middle-class constituents. The scheme was run by Salah Ezzedine, a well-connected businessman (nicknamed Hizballah’s Bernie Madoff) who had persuaded senior Hizballah officials to invest their money with him, and who had founded a publishing house named after party leader Nasrallah’s son. Ezzedine lost between $700 million and $1 billion, according to news reports at the time.

A final straw came in 2012 when a senior Hizballah official who had been embezzling money fled to Israel. Reports suggest he was stealing for his own benefit, pure and simple, but when he was about to get caught he fled to Hizballah’s greatest enemy with his money and party documents.

All these cases point in one direction: toward more corruption and more Israeli infiltration.

Hizballah’s initial appeal in the 1980s and 1990s was its incorruptibility and zeal. In a country dominated by kleptocratic warlords, Hizballah stood out in its first two decades as an organization whose leaders did not care to enrich themselves. Their first priority was to expel the occupying Israelis. Their second was to help their suffering constituents, most of them Shia Muslims displaced by the civil war and crowded into miserable slums on the edges of Beirut. In those first decades, Hizballah brought sewers, electricity and clean water to south Beirut, and its leaders lived simply.

Today, things are different. At the very top, Nasrallah lives in hiding, and by all reports remains committed to the group’s humble ethic. But the organization he runs is awash in money. After the 2006 war, Iran flooded Hizballah with millions of dollars to rebuild homes and roads. Since 2011 there’s been yet another burst of spending linked to the war in Syria. Over the objections of many Lebanese — and the grumbling of some supporters who thought Hezbollah should maintain its focus on Israel — Hizballah dispatched troops to fight on the regime’s side in the Syrian civil war. At first the deployment was kept secret, but today Hizballah openly sends troops and celebrates its members martyred in Syria. The organization has dramatically increased its spending on fighters and their families and has expanded the size of its military force in order to maintain a deterrent against Israel while fighting in Syria. Hizballah has become a standing army capable of fighting a war on two fronts where it was once a guerrilla army. That’s an expensive development and not one that necessarily carries the same appeal as Hizballah did when it was fighting a war of resistance on its home territory against a much stronger Israeli occupation force.

Today, it appears, there are Hizballah insiders willing to sell crucial secrets to the enemy. There are others who seem happy to siphon money out of the Party of God’s pockets for their own enrichment, just like operatives in all the rest of Lebanon’s notoriously corrupt factions.

In comments over the weekend to Hizballah’s “Nour” radio station, the party’s number-two, Naim Qassem, said that Hizballah was made up of fallible humans but was able to contain the “limited” fallout of the spy cases.

“Hizballah has worked intensely on battling espionage among its ranks and in its entourage. Some cases surfaced, and they are very limited cases,” he said. “There is no party in the world as big and sophisticated as Hizballah that was able to stand with the same steadfastness.”

That makes sense as spin, and Hizballah can obviously survive — the question is, with how much damage.

Until the 2006 war, Hizballah successfully stood apart in Lebanon. It was a Shia organization, but it opposed sectarianism. Even those who didn’t share Hizballah’s dedication to fighting Israel recognized that the militant group placed that goal over its own power and enrichment.

In its rise to power, however, Hizballah has relied on support from some of Lebanon’s most corrupt factions, including the Shia Amal Movement and the Christian Free Patriotic Movement.

Today, Hizballah is a party of the establishment, deeply invested in a Lebanese order that depends on patronage and sectarian balancing. It is unlikely that corruption and spy scandals will unseat Hizballah from its dominant position in Lebanon. But Hizballah’s descent from the moral high ground it claims as unimpeachable standard-bearer of the Lebanese resistance seems only a matter of time.

Thanassis Cambanis is a fellow at The Century Foundation and the author of Once Upon a Revolution: An Egyptian Story. He also wrote A Privilege to Die: Inside Hezbollah’s Legions and Their Endless War Against Israel.

TIME Lebanon

Syrian Refugees Must Now Apply for a Visa Before Crossing into Lebanon

Syrians wanting to cross into Lebanon must now apply for a visa at the border

Lebanon will begin from Monday to impose visa restrictions on Syrians in an attempt to stem the huge influx of refugees into the country.

According to the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), 1.15 million Syrian refugees are registered in Lebanon, increasing the country’s population by 25%, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Syrian refugees have found work as unskilled laborers in the domestic, agriculture or construction industries. But the competition for jobs with their Lebanese counterparts has created tensions between the two communities.

Previously, Syrians and Lebanese could travel between the two countries largely unrestricted. Now, Syrians wanting to cross into Lebanon must apply for a visa at the border and those wanting to work will have to be sponsored by a Lebanese person or company.

[WJS]

TIME Syria

U.N.: $8.4 Billion Needed for Syria and Neighbors Hosting Refugees

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres gestures during a news conference for the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 in Geneva
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres gestures during a news conference to launch of the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva Dec. 8, 2014 Pierre Albouy—Reuters

Nations hosting refugees to also benefit from improvements to infrastructure and services

The U.N. is seeking $8.4 billion to help the nearly 18 million victims of the Syrian conflict.

The money will go toward jobs, education, public health and public works, reports the New York Times. The request for development aid is an acknowledgement that the conflict may last for many years and that it has seriously disrupted the lives of the Syrian people.

Syria’s war is still escalating,” said António Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, in a statement Thursday. “And the humanitarian situation is becoming protracted.”

For the first time, this war chest includes aid for neighboring countries, which are feeling the strain of the flood of Syrian refugees.

More than 12 million Syrians are displaced inside the country while 3.2 million have fled to neighbors such as Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. The U.N. estimates that the number of Syrian refugees will rise to 4.3 million in 2015.

In addition to helping Syrian refugees, the U.N.’s financing plan includes estimates that 20.6 million people in host countries will benefit indirectly from improvements to infrastructure and services.

TIME Lebanon

DNA Tests Confirm Lebanon Is Holding ISIS Leader’s Child

A man purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Mosul, Iraq, in 2014.
A man purported to be the reclusive ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Reuters

The woman also detained is believed to be al-Baghdadi's ex-wife

DNA tests have confirmed that the child held by Lebanese authorities is the daughter of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Lebanon’s Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk told domestic television channel MTV that the child’s mother is believed to have married to al-Baghdadi six years ago for a period of three months, the BBC reports.

The Iraqi government had said she was not married to the Islamist leader.

The woman, identified as Saja al-Dulaimi, tried to enter Lebanon over a week ago accompanied by two sons and a daughter when she was detained by border guards.

Machnouk claims al-Dulaimi is pregnant but the child is not al-Baghdadi’s.

“We conducted DNA tests on her and the daughter, which showed she was the mother of the girl, and that the girl is [al-Baghdadi’s] daughter, based on DNA from Baghdadi from Iraq,” Machnouk told MTV.

Machnouk said the children were staying at a care center while al-Dulaimi was being interrogated.

[BBC]

TIME Lebanon

The ISIS Leader’s Wife May Not Have Been Arrested After All

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
This file image made from video posted on a militant website Saturday, July 5, 2014, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, purports to show the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, delivering a sermon at a mosque in Iraq. AP

Some say the woman has no relation to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi

The identity of Saja al-Dulaimi, the purported wife of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is being disputed.

The woman tried to enter Lebanon over a week ago, accompanied by a 4-year-old boy. She was arrested in a coordinated operation involving agencies from Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, an unidentified intelligence source told CNN.

Her detention was widely reported, but different sources now claim that the woman is actually al-Baghdadi’s ex-wife, or a powerful figure within ISIS, or even unrelated.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry says that al-Baghdadi’s wives are called Asma Fawzi Mohammed al-Dulaimi and Israa Rajab Mahal Al-Qaisi and that the detained woman is neither of these.

The Lebanese authorities have made no official comment, and the CIA has not responded to claims that it was involved in the capture. ISIS members on social media deny that al-Baghdadi’s wife has been arrested.

Read more at CNN

TIME Middle East

Wife of ISIS Leader Could Be ‘Best Source of Information’ About ISIS

A man purported to be the reclusive leader of the militant Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Mosul, Iraq, in 2014.
A man purported to be the reclusive ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Reuters

Saja al-Dulaimi is being held by the Lebanese military with her child

In what could be one of the biggest breaks yet in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), Lebanese officials said on Tuesday they had arrested a wife and child of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the two tried to cross over the Syrian border late last month using false identity documents. The Lebanese military has detained the pair and is in coordination with foreign intelligence agencies,” according to Lebanon’s as-Safir newspaper.

If that is correct, intelligence agents from the U.S. to Iraq might have stumbled on a goldmine.

The woman, whom Iraqi and Lebanese officials identified as Saja al-Dulaimi, is not the first wife of a fugitive leader to flee her husband’s territory; the wives of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi fled across the borders of their countries before the capture of their husbands, fearing they would be arrested or killed in the attacks on the regimes of their husbands.

But that is where the similarities end, say some experts. Saddam’s family, who now live in Amman, Jordan, and Gaddafi’s wife, who found refuge in Algiers and finally Oman, live in freedom and keep a low profile.

MORE: Feds Say ISIS May Target U.S. Military at Home

But Dulaimi, an Iraqi and one of Baghdadi’s three wives, could provide crucial details in custody about her husband, as the U.S. and allies wage a fierce bombing campaign to crush ISIS. With so few known facts about Baghdadi, “she is the best source of information about him and about the dynamics of ISIS that anyone has had up until now,” says Sajjan Gohel, International Security Director at the Asia Pacific Foundation in London. He added that the fact that Lebanon waited 10 days before announcing her arrest suggests that they were squeezing Dulaimi for information before letting ISIS know they had her in custody, perhaps to give the U.S. and its allies time to plan surprise operations against Baghdadi. “Until now the flow of information has been always directed by ISIS,” says Gohel.

Among the details the U.S. and Iraq might find interesting — and which Dulaimi could be well-placed to know — is where Baghdadi is now, what routes he uses to travel around ISIS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq, and whether he was injured in an airstrike last month, as reports suggested. It was unclear on Tuesday whether the child arrested with Dulaimi was a boy or a girl. But the very fact that Dulaimi has fled Syria might suggest that ISIS is under such severe pressure, that Baghdadi has sent his loved ones to safety elsewhere, or that his wife decided herself to flee the war. Dulaimi was among 150 women prisoners the Syrian government freed last March in exchange for 13 nuns captured by Islamic militant insurgents of the al-Nusra Front.

Little is known about Dulaimi’s own role in ISIS; CNN on Tuesday quoted a Lebanese security force describing her as “a powerful figure heavily involved in ISIS.” Now, she could also find herself a valuable bargaining chip in the turmoil rocking the region, as governments and insurgent forces trade firepower and prisoners. Reuters on Tuesday quoted a Lebanese security official saying Dulaimi was “a powerful card to apply pressure” on militants, who are not directly connected to ISIS, to free 27 members of Lebanon’s security forces.

As long as Dulaimi remains in custody, however, she joins a growing number of close relatives of terrorist leaders who have paid the price for their loved ones’ actions.

Immediately after the September 11 attacks in 2001, several relatives of Osama Bin Laden fled Afghanistan, some across the border to Iran. “They stayed there for many years,” Gohel says. “The assumption is that whatever intelligence they provided was never shared with the international community.” And after U.S. Navy SEALs assassinated Bin Laden in May, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that country arrested the al-Qaeda leader’s wives and children who lived with him there, keeping them under house arrest for a year before deporting them to Saudi Arabia.

Read next: Wife of ISIS Leader Detained in Lebanon

TIME movies

Review: In Fury, Brad Pitt Wins World War II, Again

Columbia Pictures

The Inglourious Basterds star returns for another tour in this grisly account of an American tank crew in the war's last month

Correction appended: Oct. 16, 2014

“Done much killing?” tough Sergeant Don “Wardaddy” Collier (Brad Pitt) asks winsome newbie Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman). “No,” Ellison answers timidly. “You will,” the big guy spits out.

He’s not kidding. Fury, writer-director David Ayer’s war film to end all war films (fingers crossed), begins with Wardaddy killing a German cavalry officer with a knife, then cutting his eye out as a souvenir. It ends, a draining two hours and 10 minutes later, in a battle that makes the Alamo look like a pie dessert — à la mode.

This is War Movie 101: all fighting, nearly all the time. Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down pictured a similarly unrelenting siege (Somalia), as did, in a fantasy landscape, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Rohan). Saving Private Ryan traced an American unit’s trajectory across World War II–era France, and Platoon and Full Metal Jacket, once that film got past the fatal hazing of basic training, submerged the viewer in the Vietnam nightmare as seen by its edgy American invaders. Fury doesn’t come close to the achievement of those edifying cinematic ordeals, let alone to Samuel Maoz’s harrowing Israeli film Lebanon, which summoned a claustrophobic psychopathy by setting virtually all its action inside an Israeli tank. But Ayer’s movie has the admirable ambition of showing how even the Greatest Generation could brutalize and be brutalized by war.

Brad Pitt, you’ll recall, already won World War II in Inglourious Basterds. Hell, last year he won World War Z. So how can he and the near victorious GIs of the 2nd Armored Division be established as underdogs in a movie set in Germany in April 1945, just a few weeks before Hitler would blow his brains out in a bunker? Ayer’s solution: put ‘em in a tank, where their rumbling weapon was far outclassed by the enemy’s. Henry Ford produced the Americans’ thin-skinned Sherman tank; Ferdinand Porsche designed the Germans’ much larger, sturdier Tiger. It was, essentially, the Tin Lizzie vs. the Mercedes-Benz Super Sport.

And though World War II would shortly end, the U.S. soldiers couldn’t take it easy, like college seniors in the final term before graduation. Their mission was to roll through Germany, whose Nazi leaders called for every citizen to fight the invaders to their death. To the Americans, each person they meet is a potential sniper; every man, woman and child is cannon fodder. Some of the soldiers became efficient killing machines. Some of them may have liked it.

Norman, who looks about 12 and takes most of the movie to grow stubble on his sweet peach face, doesn’t like killing, doesn’t want it and, when he’s drafted as Wardaddy’s gunner, doesn’t know how to do it. His first job is to scrape the remains of his predecessor off the insides of the tank, nicknamed Fury. He is the token innocent, the audience surrogate, almost the girl joining a quartet of grizzled veterans.

Because their characters are reduced to their religious, ethnic or lowlife stereotypes, they may as well be called Bible (Shia LaBeouf), Mex (Michael Peña) and Animal (Jon Bernthal). Their tour has taken them to hell and halfway back, which makes them the rude tutors in Norman’s life-or-death indoctrination. “The war’s gotta end, soon,” Wardaddy says, in one of the boilerplate truisms that serve as this movie’s dialogue. “But before it ends, a lotta people gotta die.”

Sometimes, even a little death is a lot. Conquering one village, Wardaddy and Norman enter a house that holds two frightened young German women, Emma (Alicia von Rittberg) and Irma (Anamaria Marinca, star of the Romanian prize winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). Irma makes lunch for Wardaddy, who sends Norman off to the bedroom with Emma in what may be their mutual deflowering. The assignation is meant to be tender, but the viewer has to wonder if Emma (or for that matter, Norman) is a willing participant, and if the scene doesn’t carry the lingering toxicity of sexual violence. Then the other tank troopers barge in, and Animal uncorks a flood of insults that amount to assault. By velvet glove or iron fist, barbarism rules.

That, Ayer would argue, is just war, daddy. And in staging his big battle sequences, he brings Fury to fitful life. The attack of three Shermans on a giant Tiger is choreographed for maximum impact, as is the looming face-off between Wardaddy’s crippled tank and about 300 SS troops marching toward it. Pitt, who at 50 still looks great with his shirt off, has the gruff charisma to play a dauntless soldier with killer courage and a vestigial streak of humanity.

He carries a film that could stumble under the burden of its clichés. You know that when one character who’s chomped out bits of Norman’s callow butt for most of the movie finally makes gentle amends, he’ll be the next to die. And that another character, having faced death countless times by German fire or misadventure, will survive through an act of enemy kindness. World War II was a historical event, but also a movie genre, and Fury occasionally prints the legend. The rest of it is plenty grim and grisly. Audience members may feel like prisoners of war forced to watch a training-torture film.

The original version of this story misspelled the name of Brad Pitt’s character. It is Don “Wardaddy” Collier.

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