Remember that gritty shootout from that seventies crime drama you loved so much? Now imagine that sequence stretched out over a whole movie. If that scenario appeals to you, then Free Fire is your dream come true!
All joking aside, the story of a black market gun deal gone wrong is actually pretty fun. There is no character development to be found, but there are some pretty quirky characters taking part in an increasingly entertaining fight for survival. It gets a bit tedious and not every plot turn works, but it is a cool movie reminiscent of the low budget crime dramas you might see on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Shoot, Shoot And Shoot Again
The plot is as simple as it gets. Chris (Cillian Murphy) and his fellow Irish revolutionaries meet with gun runner Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his motley crew. Intermediary Justine (Brie Larson) does her best to keep the peace, but there is an instant distrust between all parties. Eventually tempers flare, a gun goes off and the fight is on. And that’s it. This is not some metaphor for the evils of capitalism or a statement on violence today. It is simply criminals shooting at each other for an hour and half.
Director/Co-writer Ben Wheatley creates a gritty and violent world for his group of potty mouthed criminals. Most of Free Fall takes place in a dirty abandoned warehouse, a fitting setting for the chaos in the film. The camera never really calls attention to itself. There are no beautifully framed scenes or cool low angle shots; Wheatley prefers to get in the dirt with his protagonists. It is a cool choice, as it makes sure the action speaks for itself.
As the bullets fly, so do the wise cracks. As silly as things get, the bullets have real impact. No one…And I mean no one…is unscathed once the shooting starts, adding a sense of danger that anyone can die at any moment. And they often do. The action stays mostly comedic, making some of the more serious or dark plot turns feel a bit out of place. However, these moments are not frequent, so this is really more of a nitpick.
All that said, the film does feel a bit long at times. That is saying something since it is only ninety minutes long. It feels like the action is getting stretched, especially towards the end, adding an unwelcome tedium to the excitement. Some of the dialogue does get a little artificial, as though the characters are quipping just for the sake of filling time. Which is too bad, as most of the characters are really fun to watch.
Criminals and Bullets Don’t Mix
No one is terrible in Free Fire, but the characters with the big personalities are the ones that stand out. Cillian Murphy’s Chris is the closest thing to a main hero, but he is something of a blank slate. He does have some funny early barbs for Copley’s Vernon, but then he disappears into the bullet filled background.
Larson’s Justine is an interesting character partly because she is a bit hard to pin down. While everyone else is loud and over the top, she has more of a cerebral quality. She subtly uses her role as the only woman in the group to her advantage, giving her a certain power over the rests of the group. Larson‘s performance is also pretty subtle, as she rarely makes the character’s motives obvious.
On the opposite end is Sharlto Copley as Vernon. Hopeless and inept in almost every way, he is the source of much of the humor. With an over inflated ego, Vernon is constantly slammed back to Earth in satisfying ways. Copley continues to show off his impressive comedic chops here, never going too over the top…he is the right level of annoying.
The stand out (At least for me) is Armie Hammer’s Ord, Vernon’s hired muscle. His increasing amusement at the ludicrous situation is very funny. And although he is probably the most capable of anyone in the warehouse, he becomes a bit of an audience surrogate. He constantly points out how ridiculous the fight gets even as he merrily takes part in the battle.
Sam Riley probably has the flashiest role as the drug addled Stevo. His dynamic with Harry (Jack Reynor), who has a few choice moments himself, is great as well. They provide the closest thing to a “sympathetic” story arc, but it is hard to take it too seriously given how terrible both characters are.
No one character is particularly deep, simply exhibiting certain quirky traits. Ord is sarcastic. Justine is in it for herself. Vernon demands respect. No one has an arc or a secret sympathetic motive. You might root for a character in the same way you root for a sports team. It is not because they are good or evil, you just start to like them. That is why the “bigger than life” characters stand out.
There is an attempt to add a sort of flirtation between Chris and Justine, but it feels awkward, especially given the circumstances. Some of the other characters are also worse than one dimensional. Noah Taylor’s Gordon is reduced to a screaming maniac as the film goes on. In the end, you probably do not need to know too much about these guys (And one lady), but even just a little background could have made this a much more memorable film.
A Fun But Forgettable Time
Free Fire is not especially memorable. As fun as it is, it will fade away into the ether of your memory as time goes on. It is one of those films that you catch on a late night that you vaguely remembered liking enough to recommend to a friend. And that friend had put it on their “Need to watch” list, but never quite got to it until it showed up on Netflix. You know, a fun watch when nothing else is going on.
And you know what? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It is not the best movie in the world, but also not the worst. Sometimes the simple concepts are the most fun, especially with an interesting cast of characters. Just do not expect too much.
SCORE: 6 OUT OF 10