A quick warning, while nothing will be overtly spelled out in this review, there may be enough information that you can piece together the conclusion. I’m taking this approach because it makes the review like the movie in some ways. Although the film’s climax won’t be blatantly obvious to audiences while watching the movie, it isn’t all that hard to take a fairly accurate guess at how things will be resolved. However, if you’d rather read a completely spoiler-free review; you can check out Greg Dimmock’s post from the film’s initial release here.
Free Fire is the story of a gun-deal gone wrong. A party of dealers, lead by Ord (Armie Hammer) and Verne (Sharlto Copley) are introduced to a group of Irish buyers, lead by Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Francis (Michael Smiley), by intermediary Justine (Brie Larson). Things go south and a shoot-out begins.
And that is pretty much the entirety of the plot. While an occasional third party is introduced to shake things up a bit; it won’t be long before the film returns to the status quo of two gangs trapped in a warehouse shooting at each other. It’s a blessing, really, that this film is rather short at only 87 minutes long. But even with the brief run-time, watching two gangs shoot at each other back and forth for a hour does waver between being mindlessly entertaining and somewhat dull.
Director Ben Wheatley explains in the DVD’s special features that his intentions behind this were to have a small, self-contained tale where what you’re watching is far-removed from, say, a super-hero movie. A movie where whole buildings and cities can be destroyed and the audience won’t bat an eyelid. Instead, his intention is to keep things small-scale, and have the only things at stake be the characters lives, which he argues should be more than enough.
To an extent, this works, and is perhaps a reason why the first half-hour of the film is the strongest. Wheatley takes his time introducing the characters, building up their personalities (not a great deal, might I add – some of these people are clearly just fodder from the get-go), and seeding conflict between this mishmash of people. With every new character brought in, events are given a new way to blow up; and the tension between them when you’re waiting for the first shot to be fired is palpable.
Unfortunately, the fact that only some of the cast get properly fleshed out can be a problem. Armie Hammer’s Ord is suave, relaxed and entertaining; Sharlto Copley’s Vernon is, in his own words “a rare beast”, filled with all the zany traits that you might expect from a Copley character; Murphy and Smiley play tough-as-nails Irishmen with hidden vulnerabilities and Riley’s Steveo is an aggravating druggie who you’re dying to see take a bullet.
Then there’s Brie Larson. Touted on the back of the DVD as an Oscar winner, Larson is criminally underused. Her character’s main trait is that she’s a woman; one that could have been played to the same effect by pretty much any actress and the rather unfortunate result is that sometimes when she’s not on camera, you forget she’s meant to be there or simply just don’t care. Her character’s motives could be construed as her being the savviest of the group; while she’s portrayed as a bit of a damsel, sticking to the sidelines while the men are overcome by their pettiness and their desire to riddle the other side with bullets is the smart move here. But in a film that is just two groups of people shooting at each other in it’s entirety, sidelining the only female character means that she doesn’t get as much of a chance to engage in the witty repartee that the other characters throw across the room as they reload and collect themselves. Which is a real shame, as aside from the first half-hour in general, the dialogue is easily the strongest feature of the film.
But it’s the slightly underdeveloped characters that lead to a slightly unsatisfying conclusion. While the film is a fun ride for the most part, in spite of it’s flaws, the eventual ‘winner’ of the shoot-out (not that there are any real winners) may leave you somewhat empty, due to the fact that they, like Larson’s Justine, are one of the lesser developed characters, and thus one of the one’s you’re probably not rooting for. And while I’m an advocate for central characters being at risk of dying in films, Free Fire does it in a way that will give you no gratification and after an hour of on-and-off excitement, leave you on a low note.
Dir: Ben Wheatley
Scr: Amy Jump & Ben Wheatley
Cast: Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Michael Smiley, Jack Reynor, Sam Riley, Babou Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti & Noah Taylor
Prd: Andy Starke
DOP: Laurie Rose
Music: Ben Salisbury & Geoff Barrow
Runtime: 87 Minutes
Free Fire is out on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital Download now.