Spoil-Free Review: Free Fire
Since about the 47 minute mark of 21 Jump Street I decided I would see everything the goddess Brie Larson was in until the end of time. I even saw The Gambler so you know I’m loyal. Luckily for me though I was far more excited to see Free Fire than I was to see Mark Whalberg remake a 1974 classic. In fact, if someone was making my perfect movie in a lab it would look a lot like Free Fire. I’ve been into the parlor piece ever since Hitchcock mastered it in 1948. Reservoir Dogs is still my favorite Tarantino movie which is quite the feat. I even like Clue which is an absolute mess of a movie but I don’t mind; I must’ve seen it three or four times at this point. I love guns and jokes and dry witty assholes. I enjoy Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy and Armie Hammer and Michael Smiley. I love Ben Wheatley, I thought High-Rise was well directed if unfairly compared to its source material. I have always hated modern horror I find there is no class or deft to it but I appreciate Wheatley’s early horror work, much more Sightseers than A Field in England which is a little too heavy on the Sundance and mushrooms for my liking but still an excellent director. Also not for nothing, he quietly directed two of the best episodes of Doctor Who’s inconsistent eighth season.
Free Fire opens on the poorly lit exterior of an abandoned factory in the ass-end of Boston. Where half of an IRA arms deal is waiting to buy a shit load of guns from a few predictably sketchy arms dealers. The first act of the film is pretty perfectly crafted. Everyone walking into the theater knows something is going to go wrong. The tagline of the movie is “All guns. No Control.” So for the first part of the movie everyone is waiting to see whose fault is it that everything goes to shit. My money was on skeevy Australian arms dealer Vernon, played by Sharlto Copley, I would’ve been sort of wrong though. Wheatley has placed all of these dysfunctional characters into one big room and given them an arsenal full of guns and a lot of money and with no love lost between them it’s a pretty perfect recipe for what is to follow. As everyone waits for the other shoe to drop Wheatley displays some of his biting black comedy that he has used so well in his previous films. But partially because of the cast and the film itself it has never worked so well as it did in Free Fire. No one saw The Man From U.N.C.L.E. so no one may realize how hilarious Armie Hammer is (which makes The Lone Ranger more egregious by the day) but hopefully after this he will get some recognition. Ord is absolutely my favorite character. He is my favorite character archetype so it’s not of much surprise that I liked him so much. As the bullets fly and more and more bodies fall Ord loses none of his sense of humor or swagger, smoking and hurling insults throughout, bedecked in his painfully 70s tailored suit and black turtle neck.
I came in to Free Fire expecting a high octane nonstop shoot ‘em up; basically the first half of The Expendables in a warehouse. In a lot of ways that is exactly what you get, and I would not want to sell the number of bullets that bounce and knick shoulders and calves short in Free Fire that would be doing the film a disservice. But also it would be selling the movie short to say that that’s all it was. The absolute best part of Free Fire is Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley’s irreverent dialogue shouted in the lulls between gunshots and the occasional explosion. I’ve always had an affinity for funny action films the Beverly Hills Cop series, Three Cornetto series, Rush Hour series—really anything that Jackie Chan has done except The Tuxedo it is absolutely the most enjoyable genre of movie as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure that means something is wrong with me that I enjoy laughing while also watching people die but if I don’t think about it too much it’s not that weird. Free Fire delivers in spades on both ends I won’t tell you how many people die but it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that not everyone makes it out of this one alive on the other hand while all of the bodies are dropping I couldn’t stop laughing. Hmm I might be a psychopath—well this is awkward.
Free Fire isn’t perfect don’t get me wrong. It is either my favorite or second favorite movie of 2017 thus far—now counting the black comedy horror show that is the United States government of course. But that doesn’t mean I have no complaints at all. It’s a 1970s film about an IRA member buying a bunch of guns but the racial politics are a little… tense. The film is almost intentionally white which doesn’t normally bother me, I’m not usually one to decry a film because of lack of culture—obviously. It feels slightly different in this film not because of the lack of brown bodies but because of how unceremoniously they are treated. There are some character storylines that run thin over the course of the movie. While Stevo, played by Sam Riley, is fun in the first act he eats up too much more screen time than his character deserves and takes it away from much more deserving performances. It’s no fault of Riley but after Stevo is almost literally comatose from smack he slows down the film. I also don’t know how necessary it was to shoot people in the leg so they had to crawl around, I know it lends itself to the drama but after almost everyone still breathing was no longer bipedal some of the action scenes felt a little overwrought.
There is a lot really great about this film and a lot that it struggles with, a lot of the criticisms I’ve seen of Free Fire since its release have been fair—a lot of it is also bullshit critic speak for, “this movie doesn’t seem very ‘smart’ and thus must be bad.” I would say to you if you are thinking about seeing this movie and you can’t quite decide. If you’ve ever seen a western and wish they’d get right of all that pesky shit that wasn’t the gun fights and the one-liners than this is for you.