Writer-Director Ben Wheatley’s latest, Free Fire, centers on a massive shootout that encompasses the bulk of the film’s running time. However, is the film more of a cautionary tale or does it glorify the weapons at the heart of it?
Set in 1978, the film takes place in an abandoned warehouse where a gun deal between two gangs has gone bad. The deal has been set up by Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer). The buyers are IRA, represented by Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) as well as Frank’s brother-in-law, Stevo (Sam Riley) and his friend, Bernie (Enzo Cilenti). The seller is Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his associate, Martin (Babou Ceesay). They too have some extra muscle in the form of Gordon (Noah Taylor) and the hot-headed Harry (Jack Reynor). Through sheer coincidence, Stevo and Harry have met prior to the deal and the conflict between them is what sets off this powder keg and the ensuing gunfight. Also, someone isn’t being truthful about their allegiances as two random sharpshooters (Mark Monero, Patrick Bergin) show up to spice things up. Will anyone make it out of this alive? And who isn’t who they say they are?
Free Fire has a lot of guns, but it also has a lot of laughs. Many of the characters are absolutely ridiculous—especially Vernon—but something that Wheatley has done with Co-Writer Amy Jump is successfully make each character unique. They each have their own personalities and quirks, which is impressive for a film with such a thin premise. Also, the film doesn’t glorify gun violence in any way, because in this film, nothing good comes from it. The characters know how dangerous these things are and are intent on something like this not kicking off, but as is usually the case, if a loaded gun is in the room, it’s probably going to be fired at some point. The shootout is well-choreographed by Wheatley and there are plenty of lulls in the action with sporadic bursts of violence. My one big disappointment with the gunfight was sown with the trailer. I was expecting there to be a rocking soundtrack throughout the fight, but a lot of it takes place in musical silence. To me, it felt like a wasted opportunity.
The cast is great here. Brie Larson brings her usual greatness to the role of Justine. Her reactions are hilarious as she has to endure the constant fawning from all the men. Armie Hammer is great as Ord. His delivery is pitch perfect and his performance is really funny. Cillian Murphy plays the straight man in all this and does well with that part. Sam Riley and Jack Reynor are also really good in their roles—Reynor has really impressed me in the films I’ve seen him in since writing him off in Transformers 4—and Babou Ceesay reminded me at times of a young Bernie Mac. However, the real star of the film is Copley, who delivers a ridiculous, pompous ass of a character in Vernon. He really drives a lot of the comedy with his absurd dialogue. Just a really great performance.
You won’t get a lot of story from Free Fire, but you’ll get some unique characters, nice action, and a lot of laughs. It’s not a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a fun diversion at the theater.