Ben Wheatley’s ‘Free Fire’ is a magnificent blood-soaked romp that’s both captivating and witty.
Free Fire is set in the 1970’s as a group of criminals meet up with an arms dealer. The first group is connected to the IRA and is led by Chris (Cillian Murphy) along with his partner Frank (Micheal Smiley). They, of course, brought back up to the meeting in the form of hired guns Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) on top of a suitcase of cash. The arms dealers are a South African man named Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Martin (Babou Ceesay), an ex-Black Panther. Helping to broker this deal for each side are Ord (Armie Hammer) and Justine (Brie Larsen). During the negotiations, a fight breaks between some of the hired guns which manifest into an intense 85-minute shoot-out between the two groups.
While each member of the cast played their respective roles with a great deal of precision, the one performance that stood out above all others was Sharlto Copley’s portrayal of Vernon. His character is a mix of used car salesman meets psychopath. Vernon tries to pull a fast one during the gun sale by selling the wrong brand of rifles to the IRA. When questioned about this, he immediately flies off the handle, and the audience quickly realizes that this deal is doomed even before it starts. His business partner Martin tries to reason with him, but even he sees that there’s no talking to a crazy person.
Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley constructed a narrative that was absent of any sympathetic figures. Not a single one of the characters would be confused as being some sort of hero. Now that certainly is different, but what was odd was how this film is missing an arc. There isn’t any story where the gunmen are shooting these guys because they killed his one true love. No one is firing off an M16 into another person’s stomach as an act of revenge. This film is incredibly simplistic. It’s as if the director, Ben Wheatley, ripped out the most intense moment of 70’s era crime drama and then expanded it to 80 minutes long.
Now on the surface, the idea of a film based on entirely an 80-minute gunfight seems problematic, but in this case, it wasn’t. Each one of these characters is so uniquely written the film became less about its simplicity and more about the complexity of its characters.
The director understood that while these characters and each were evil in their unique way, not one of them should be proficient with a gun. Most of the film is watching these characters dive, roll around, and miss terribly as they attempt to kill one another. Their ineptitude added a slight dark comedic element to the picture. Wheatley also utilized every square inch of the warehouse to help heighten the action sequences. This film isn’t just only gunshot after gunshot. Don’t be shocked if Vernon manages to find a random metal object that he slams into the side of an unlucky victim.
Free Fire isn’t the deepest film ever released nor does it claim to be. If you are searching for a movie that seeks to make some social commentary or has a plausible storyline with a happy ending, then this film isn’t for you. However, if a film that’s non-stop action with stellar writing appeals to you, then Free Fire should be your choice this weekend.