Free Fire, the new film from Kill List director Ben Wheatley, takes place during a contentious international arms deal in a spacious abandoned warehouse in 1978 Boston. As expected, it does not go as planned.
Interestingly enough, the deal plays out in an anachronistically polite way. Not tea party polite, but more polite than one expects from an illicit gun deal. When a past altercation between two lackeys on either side of the deal resurfaces, the lengthy debate that proceeds is surprisingly steeped in rationality. Again, relatively. The de facto leaders of the exchange do their best to allow level heads to prevail.
Then, you know, what one would expect to happen happens. And it continues to happen. Then the movie ends.
Miscommunication is the name of the game. From cultural distance to the heated debates over trust and civility to the inevitable total breakdown, misunderstanding fuels every beat. Confusion amidst a haze of flying dust and bullets carries the action of the film to the point of delirium.
It goes without saying, then, that the plot of the film is not of paramount concern. Character goals are simple: there’s a case of money, cases full of guns, and a lot of people getting in each other’s way. Characters are simple: there are Americans, Irishmen, and a South African. That is essentially all there is to say about these people as characters (unless you want to count how many times they get shot as a matter of characterization). The story isn’t much to write a book report on, either.
Even acting is hard to comment on, given the performances are largely screaming expletives in-between bouts of gunfire. Michael Smiley and Armie Hammer exchange some entertaining banter. But Cillian Murphy and Brie Larson are left in the dust with performances too ground level for what the film is presenting. And Sharlto Copley is simply over the top as always, for better or worse.
The best acting in the film comes from Jack Reynor. His comic timing is the most punctual. He engages the best with the other characters, and many of them. The agency of his character sneaks up on you, and he takes on the role better than the other leads.
The barest of stories; characters developed to the point of name, at best; and one superficial theme. What is the film for, then?
There is witty dialogue interspersed throughout. Tonally fitting editing. A generally frantic style and pacing. Guns…
The film is an experiment in confusion. No one knows who is shooting who or where anyone is or how much time has passed or who’s on who’s side or why any of this is happening in the first place. The audience knows little more.
It is chaos without sense or meaning or direction. And it’s pretty damn fun. It takes a lot of energy to make a film about people crawling and writhing on the ground for an hour engaging.
Stylistically, the film satisfies this with editing and impeccable use of space. It isn’t a formal masterpiece; the cinematography doesn’t have the same amount of energy as the editing. In narration, the film might not be Shakespeare. Nor is it Scorsese or Richie. But the film is unabashed popcorn-crunching entertainment. If that’s what you’re into.
Free Fire: B-
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