It may be unfair but I can't shake this image of David Ayer getting jobs in Hollywood by strutting around going "I've seen things in my life I don't like to talk about" with this mysterious air. So he's been given a plumb writing-directing gig of a big budget war film about a American tank crew in the last days of the campaign in Germany.
That's a solid idea for a movie - tank crews don't often get featured in films, so it has freshness, and you get to focus on a couple of characters as opposed to losing track of who is in a platoon.
There is a strong cast - Brad Pitt and Michael Pena can always be relied on, Shia le Bouf gives off a 1940s vibe (he's having a great second career as a character actor), John Bernthal does a variation on his Walking Dead performance but that's fine and Logan Lerman is effective in that old standby, the newbie to the unit. Aussie Xavier Samuel pops up as does Scott Eastwood.
Some of this is fantastic - a big set piece tank battle which shows how tanks worked during the war, an interlude where Pitt takes Lerman to stay with some German girls and its conveyed that he's doing it to get a respite from his men, the last moments of the men. It looks marvellous with all that mud and metal and blood. There are some lovely touches showing Pitt's PTSD (his hands shake a lot of the time, his eyes are haunted).
But other times it's silly and not true to its vision - it sets itself up as this darker depiction of war, with the Americans shooting Germans who surrender, and newbies having to scrape brains out of the tank - but can't resist a finale where Pitt insists they stay and take on a division of SS and almost succeed in wiping them all out. I mean, that's out of Bataan (1943). There are also too many lines which smack of wisdom and feel all writer-y ("this is war").
And the movie tries to have it's cake and eat it too by having Pitt be this psycho - he forces Lerman to shoot a surrendered soldier in the back, he basically allows Lerman to coerce a German girl into sex - but also a super hero, who is super wise, smart and brave and whose men adore him. (The argument in with these sort of characters is that "oh we're trying to depict a complex man we're not endorsing all his actions" but he's played by Brad Pitt, they give him super heroic achievements... it's annoying.)