Free Fire, 2016.
Directed by Ben Wheatley.
Starring Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Babou Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti, Jack Reynor, Sam Riley, Noah Taylor, and Michael Smiley.
1978, Boston, Massachusetts. Justine has brokered a meeting between two Irishmen and a gang selling them a stash of guns. But when shots are fired, a heart-stopping game of survival ensues.
Anyone up in arms over the fact that there is very little consequence for who gets shot (repeatedly and somewhat shaking the damage off) or dies throughout the 60-minute shootout stretch of Free Fire (for reference the film is only around 85 minutes without accounting for the ending credits) is missing the point and generally walked into a movie that simply isn’t for them… at all.
Laughter ensues on point at the sight of any physical damage, even regardless of gender. Early on, the two warring factions inside the dirty abandoned warehouse get so caught up in their life or death battle over a briefcase of money, that Jack Reynor accidentally shoots Brie Larson (I’m not even attempting to recount the names of characters to further emphasize just how little plot actually matters in this extended madcap sequence of bullets and explosions), which actually generates laughs for two reasons. It’s one of the film’s very few attempts at social commentary regarding the nature of gun violence and control when everyone in a given room is armed), and secondly for the follow-up exchange of banter, that just results in one another shooting each other again.
It’s also that witty, sardonic dialogue between everyone that elevates Free Fire into an endeavor beyond a barrage of bullets and horrible accuracy, into an experience bursting with life and electricity. Sharlto Copley is also here playing one of the most eccentric arms dealers ever put to screen, as he consistently and hyperactively quips about laying everyone else in the room to waste and a sneaking suspicion that Brie Larson is on the side of the buyers. His ridiculous suit only adds to the hilarity, as he stumbles about the warehouse worrying about blood loss and God knows what else. The point is, the star-studded lineup here boasts a respectable degree of charisma, which helps to keep all of the characters easily identified throughout the unraveling chaos.
Which brings me to my next point, Free Fire is one hectic slice of gun porn. Much credit has to go to director Ben Wheatley (who also, as usual, wrote the script with his wife Amy Jump and is responsible for genre features such as High-Rise and Kill List) for keeping track of where everyone is at any given time. Generally, all of the characters are in the same vicinity for the duration of the running time, which definitely makes camera angle selection and editing tricky, but the filmmakers get the job done. Of course, the difficulty is only complicated further as characters branch out their locations, in turn revealing more of the warehouse. Expect a lot of crawling (low-angle shots add to the filthiness of the ground) and shooting while noticing other characters in the background, but most importantly a serviceable understanding of everything going on.
Occasionally, Free Fire does attempt to do too much, at one point introducing a third-party group of snipers, and probably does have one too many characters overall, but the insanity of it all keeps the film exciting for the most part. Sure, there are a few lulls during the shootout as the movie builds to each new memorable set-piece or amusing line, but there is much to respect in the ambition of basing an entire feature-length film around an opening and one prolonged shootout. The film does disappointingly miss the mark on expressing a substantial statement about gun culture (the concept of the movie and marketing suggest it wants to), as quite literally nothing regarding the plot will stick in the minds of viewers of all. Everyone is here for the violence and colorful characters, to which Free Fire delivers with gleeful overindulgence.
The 1970s setting also allows total confinement for these unlucky criminals to the warehouse shootout; there are no cell phones or immediate ways to request backup, although the one working phone in the building does come into play as a well-utilized plot point. Is should also go without saying that the time period grants the filmmakers access to some sharp-dressed wardrobes and a rocking classic soundtrack.
Ultimately, it’s clear what you are getting when purchasing a ticket to Free Fire. The feature is absolutely committed to its premise of providing an extended, creative and lively shootout spanning the film’s length. Don’t expect to think too much or invest yourself into caring about who lives and who dies on an emotional level, just know that more bullets are fired in this movie than the entirety of some video games.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★