If you’re looking for guns, violence and dark humor, ‘Free Fire’ is irresistible cinema. For this kind of genre movie to work, you need a talented filmmaker and ensemble cast. English director Ben Wheatley understands crime dramas as well as Quentin Tarantino. ‘Free Fire’ is similar to ‘Reservoir Dogs’ in the way both poke fun at the underworld. With a running time of 90 minutes, it is a tightly paced action thriller that keeps you invested into the characters. You want to find out if anyone makes it out alive. For some, it might be dismissed as just another testosterone filled movie but for the crime genre enthusiast, it supports the adage “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” ‘Free Fire’ is a blast.
Wheatley co-wrote the screenplay with his wife, Amy Jump. They wisely set the action in the 1970s. This works well for two important reasons. The characters are forced to wear tacky polyester attire and there are no cell phones in this decade. The fact that nobody can whip out a cell phone adds to the suspense. The premise is simple. The story brings together two groups of criminals for an arms deal in a dilapidated Boston warehouse. Right off the bat, there is a problem when M-16s are promised and turn out to be AR-7s. Justine (Oscar-winner Brie Larson), leads the cast and acts as a mediator for the two sides. Ord (Armie Hammer) plays a smooth-talking middle man whose job is to broker the transaction between South African gun dealer Vern (Sharlito Copley) and an IRA member Chris (Cillian Murphy).
Immediately, these guys don’t like each other. Chris’ muscle, Frank (Michael Smiley) exchanges insults with Ord. Vern gets into it with Chris. They are both pining for Justine but she is all business and sees no reason to hook up with either one of them. Things turn south fast when two lackeys have a beef to settle with each other. When Harry (Jack Reynor) spots smack addict Stevo (Sam Riley), he goes nuts. He accuses Stevo of taking advantage of his underage niece. Harry is not satisfied with his apology and wants blood. Soon enough the first bullets fly and the two gangs scramble for cover. An epic gun battle ensues. At first, none of the injuries seem to be life threatening and that is a part of the fun. Wheatley intentionally wants these thugs to suffer. It boils down to a group of men with bruised egos that have too much pride to put down their weapons. Justine happens to be the only female and the most rational character of the bunch.
The gun fight goes on for an hour. The violence is never gratuitous. Some of the characters want to run off with the suitcase of money and others just want to make it out alive. Alliances are formed and sharp dialogue is exchanged as much as bullets. For some reason, the men cannot put down their guns and close the deal. The reason the film works so well is the stellar cast. Larson is terrific in the lead role. She stands out from the foolish machismo that leads the other characters to senseless violence. The gun battle is symbolic of the failed arms deal. Case loads of automatic weapons being exchanged for the sole purpose of political violence in Ireland. Hammer turns in a solid performance as well as Copley and Smiley. Murphy is believable as the IRA foot soldier. His character just wants to walk away from the mayhem and meet up with Larson’s character at a restaurant. That’s the irony of the film. It’s the men’s sense of pride that keeps them from a peaceful resolution.
‘Free Fire’ might not be as polished as ‘Reservoir Dogs’ but it is still entertaining. Wheatley has deconstructed the crime drama to its basic elements. It is the sharp dialogue delivered by the extremely talented ensemble cast that drives this film. ‘Free Fire’ brings out the big guns and hits its target.