A24 90Minutes R
What if they made a movie that was nothing but a shoot out for an entire hour and a half? That’s exactly what British Writer/Director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, High Rise) and his wife/writing partner, Amy Jump, take us on in this 70’s romp through a Boston warehouse. This is wry comedy of the absurd taken to the violently absurd.
The action is wrapped around what is essentially a comedy that turns dark when a gun deal goes bad. All the characters have their own “shtick” which had us laughing while each of them is getting plugged bullets flying non-stop.
The gun deal instantly takes a bad turn and then it’s a question of who will survive. All of these characters are locked inside this crumbling warehouse with no way out except to kill the opposition. Even in this bleak setting, Wheatley creates a tantalizing palette through meticulous blocking, choreography and editing. He gives real perspective of how close the combatants are to each other.
Chris (Cilian Murphy) wants to buy high powered guns for the IRA. He’s good-looking and a dedicated warrior. Frank (Michael Smily) is the older Boston local who connects Chris to this deal. Vernon (Sharlo Copley) and Martin (Babou Ceesay) are the arms dealers. Copley is outrageous with his South African accent, snarling delivery and baby blue leisure suit. Ceesy as his African-American partner is quietly menacing. In describing him, one of the other characters chuckles, “He was a Black Panther, but it didn’t work out.”
Vernon and Martin have their own “helpers” for back-up, Gordon (Noah Taylor) and Harry (Jack Reynor). Chris and Frank have brought deliciously insane Steve-O (Sam Riley) ad Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) to drive and load the weapons in the van. All of these goons are unbalanced and trigger-happy.
Ord (Armie Hammer) and Justine (Brie Larson) are brokering the deal while looking down their noses at the riffraff they have to deal with. Hammer is the most interesting of the lot. His dress, demeanor and attitude are completely different than the others. He’s refined, yet he’s every bit the criminal as the rest, and he’s constantly lighting up joints even while being shot at. This is a departure for Hammer that he delivers with confidence. It’s his best performance. Brie Larson’s Justine is constantly assessing her situation trying to play the angle that will keep her alive long enough to get the pay day. She’s not so cute and conniving, which work to her
Wheatley shot the film in sequence which the actors say helped them, the continuity and the editing process. For such a complicated set piece, you’ll find it easy to follow the character arcs. There’s even a beauty to the violence as almost all the characters get shot in the legs and are forced to crawl through the rubble while constantly shouting profanities at each other. The language is so salty Wheatley says he wore out the “F” “C” and “D” keys on his computer!
Beneath all the fast-paced banter, non-stop violence and gore, Wheatley and Jump are delivering a not so subtle message about the idiocy of gun violence and the idiots that use them. Setting the action in the 1970’s also lets John Denver music play a part in creating the atmosphere of the times with a song, a wink and a nod.
If you enjoy Quentin Tarrantino style films then Free Fire will appeal to you. But, in a screwy way this is also a throwback to drawing room comedies of the 1930’s and 40’s. It all takes place in one room with lots of snappy dialogue and seemingly insurmountable conflict. The only difference here is that instead of tears and lots of yelling there are gunshots and death, but still its a lot of laughs. Free Fire has a great cast of bad shots in a movie that hits the mark.