Free Fire | Ben Wheatley | April 21, 2017
Gun violence is of course, very, very bad. But when it comes to cinematic purposes, there’s not much that audiences love seeing more than watching a bunch of characters shoot the shit out of one another. Both of these ideas are applied in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, creating something that’s so over-the-top but also ridiculously entertaining.
It’s Boston in 1978, and we are introduced to a the drugged out duo of Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) who are meeting up with IRA members Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) for a big weapons deal orchestrated by Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer), who act as intermediaries between them and the side they’re looking to buy from. That would be arms dealers led by the smug Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his associates Harry (Jack Reynor), Martin (Babou Ceesay), and Gordon (Noah Taylor).
It doesn’t take much for tensions between the two sides to beef up, with both teams secretly hoping the other side gives them a reason to scratch their itchy trigger fingers. Clearer heads should prevail, but give a bunch of egotistical men (and lady) a bunch of guns and watch what happens. It’s clear that Wheatley is offering up a damnation of just how dumb gun violence is, and he goes all in on his message.
While the characters of Free Fire are more so caricatures than fully fleshed out characters, it’s the actors behind them that elevate them to create nutty personalities that are exciting to watch engage in such mindless chaos. Sam Riley (who needs to be getting more work) excels as a drug addicted nut-job, while Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley offer a more grounded approach that makes them likable enough. Sharlto Copley goes all in on the schmuck behavior of Vernon, striking a perfect balance between annoying and oddly charming. Jack Reynor, who stole the show in Sing Street last year, hams up his role here in all its glory. But it’s the confident performance of Armie Hammer as Ord that solidifies the actor as one of the brightest young talents working in Hollywood today. This is that way that he should be used. This is not.
While the film excels in its ability to go all in on its nutty violence and the cheery charm of its admittedly dumb characters, it doesn’t quite maintain its momentum all the way through. There are some lulls, and the way it all plays out is pretty obvious if you understand the statement that Wheatley is trying to make. The staging of the action and use of its environment was a bit choppy and disorienting at times, but it’s a small grievance considering how much fun it seems the cast was having to pretend to shoot at each other, and how much audiences are going to have watching them do it while spitting out ridiculous lines in-between the bullets. And Brie Larson is once again rather underused, just as she was last month in Kong: Skull Island.
When it comes to crafting an entertaining shoot ’em up, it’s safe to say that Free Fire hits its target. Anyone who’s willing to spend about 90 minutes of their time watching a great collection of actors chew up the scenery and fully commit to its violent insanity will have a great time with it.