Ninety minutes of hilarity as a dozen gun traders shoot and maim the hell out of each other.
Boston, 1978, two gangs meet in an abandoned warehouse to trade money for firearms. But this trade between America and Ireland goes awry as a fight breaks out and uninvited guests arrive, and what was meant to be a simple trade turns into a roulette wheel of death as bullets fly in every direction.
Written and directed by Ben Wheatley and his co-writer Amy Jump (as well as executive producer Martin Scorsese) the tag team behind the incredibly pretentious High-Rise last year, Free Fire promises a lot of laughs and an insane but simple premise through its trailer. Boy, does it deliver. Starring Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley (a man who’s career has been wayward recently) the film is an explosively stupid and reckless experience dressed in 70s suit jackets.
Set entirely within a large warehouse, these dozen or so combatants quickly descend on each other when two of their number – one on either side – start fighting over a personal matter. Things escalate when two rogue gunmen attack from the sidelines, forcing everyone to the floor and desperately looking for cover, all the while frantically trading bullets at virtually anyone visible. It is like a Michael Mann film (when he was making good movies).
But Free Fire‘s best asset is its humour. A the forefront of this, Sharlto Copley, the man is on fire here.
From the moment our Irish criminals meet Copley’s sharp-suited, egotistical maniac, they immediately comment on his accent. Straight out of the gate, call the man up on his ridiculously entertaining accent that Copley fully utilizes here. He is easily the funniest and most energetic member of the cast.
But he isn’t alone. In fact Armie Hammer brings a surprisingly subtle comedy to the proceedings (by comparison) and Sam Riley as drugged up Stevo. Murphy and Larson are the objectively straight folk in this bombastic carnage.
The film-making itself is topnotch. The majority of the gunfight is without music. See the Michael Mann reference again. Everything is done so that the bullets whizzing by people’s heads, ricocheting off the surroundings and yes… penetrating people’s bodies… a lot, get all the emphasis. Plus, the sound design is great, allowing the audience to get a feel of where our characters are in the protracted standoff. One character will start speaking, close or mid-frame, and the camera will cut to someone else moving (or attempting to) and the dialogue will become distant but emphasize the location of that person. It makes what should be a very stiff and repetitive concept very free moving and fluid.
Boy, do these people soak up bullets. Free Fire doesn’t hold back. It isn’t as glossy as John Wick. Wheatley’s High-Rise got intense and brutally graphic, and this film doesn’t hold back either. We see a lot of variety in the carnage supplied by just one location. Yet as brutal and bloody as it gets, the film quickly reminds you that these people are all morons and probably deserve it.
That is to say, the characters aren’t fleshed out. We get an immediate impression of them, but you aren’t supposed to feel sympathy for any of them. The closest you get to protagonists are Murphy and Larson, yet they aren’t good people either.
Free Fire was a lot of fun. A bloody, grimy, bullet riddled comedy that knows exactly what it is. If you like black comedies and Michael Mann era gun battles, do check it out! I am hard to please with comedies, but this was a riot.