Free Fire (2017)
Release Date: April 21st, 2017 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Ben Wheatley Actors: Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Michael Smiley, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor
t was supposed to be a simple deal: money for guns. But when a twist of fate drives a wedge between both parties involved, the situation quickly escalates into a frantic shootout for survival. Frank (Michael Smiley), Chris (Cillian Murphy), and Justine (Brie Larson), along with hired help Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), meet their contact Ord (Armie Hammer) at a dilapidated warehouse, where the group eagerly awaits the arrival of assault rifles. Tensions soon rise when cocky arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his crew, including Martin (Babou Ceesay), Gordon (Noah Taylor), and Harry (Jack Reynor), show up with a shipment of AR70s – which is not the model of gun they discussed. Desperate to acquire munitions nonetheless, Frank allows the transaction to proceed. But when Harry recognizes Stevo as the perpetrator of a vicious injustice from the night before, a blast of violence sends the participants into a frenzied firefight, wherein the only things more plentiful than the bullets are the scurrilous taunts and inflammatory insults.
The film starts right up with cursing – for humor, for toughness, and then, for overkill. It’s difficult to know whether real people in these types of scenarios actually resort to continual expletives, or whether this is the influence of a dialogue-heavy writer like Quentin Tarantino. But either way, when a script depends so extensively on conversations and verbal outbursts, it’s a balancing act as coarse language comes into play. Too much and it’s not potent – or, worse, it’s just not funny. And here, it teeters into the wrong end of the spectrum, numbing some of the effectiveness of the repartee.
“I’m mingling. What the f*ck!” To save the dialogue from itself is one very amusing performance by the not-so-chameleonic Sharlto Copley (an always-watchable character actor who can be appreciated for his lack of range). He’s the most convincing of the bunch and he’s able to deliver his lines with a quirky style to match his outdated outfit (and his thick accent). The rest of the eclectic players aren’t terribly unique, though they spend enough time onscreen to mostly distinguish themselves from one another. The shame is that the impetus for the arms deal turning into a scrap is a quarrel between two of the least impressive roles – two brutes who inspire zero sympathy or concern. Had they both been blasted away from the get-go, the focus could have shifted to the better personas. Instead, these two eat up too much screentime. And, unexpectedly, the core characters stick around far longer than the plot can sustain, adding details but also tacking on minutes. It’s more than an hour in before something significant takes place to spice up the setup.
Curiously, “Free Fire” should have worked on its deceptively simple premise. But problematically, there’s nothing deceptive about it. Egos clash, nerves are jangled, the money proves to be negatively influential, and, finally, guns are unleashed. But with all the effort on building tension, the payoff becomes largely routine. Some slow-motion and wry musical selections inject a touch of artistry, but the repetition of arm and leg wounds, or the exhausting way in which everyone tries to hobble to and from vantage points quickly grows tiresome. The basic idea of a firefight in a single location sounds like it ought to fill up an entire movie. But the execution doesn’t quite work; the fast-paced bickering is only humorous half of the time, leaving a noticeable chunk of the picture to meander around lengthy standoffs, while disorienting choreography and bleak violence (which doesn’t match the tone) fill up – rather than complement – the proceedings. To its credit, “Free Fire” is in diametric opposition to the bevy of action films in which no one gets injured (or if someone does take a hit, they brush off the bullet wounds as if dust) – but the cleverness of the concept and the facetiousness of the dialogue are spread far too thin.
– The Massie Twins