Director: Ben Wheatly
Cast: Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Enzo Cilenti, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, Mark Monero, Tom Davis, Patrick Bergin
The set-up for Free Fire is certainly promising. The Tarantino-esque story (which some have compared to Reservoir Dogs) takes place in Boston in 1978, and focuses on a handful of shady figures who meet up in an abandoned warehouse to perform a black market arms deal. Two people at the exchange had a nasty encounter with each other the night before, and while the others try to calm the two men when tempers start to flare up, the situation soon spirals out of control and everyone starts shooting each other up. Making matters even more complicated is the arrival of two snipers who start firing on the crowd, and nobody seems to know who hired them.
And….yup! That is pretty much it when it comes to the plot. About 85% of the movie’s 90 minute run time consists of people shooting at each other and then limping or crawling from one part of the warehouse to the next. Director Ben Wheatly stages these scenes well-enough, often with no music and filmed in solid hand held camera shots, but with no wit, story twists, or creative action scenes to spice up the material, it gets pretty boring really fast.
Oh sure, we do eventually find out who hired the other two snipers, but it’s not really that much of a surprise, and it’s revealed during a “shocking” burst of violence that you just know is coming. The movie tries to go for some dark laughs when it comes to one character who gets shot in the head and keeps coming back to life, but I don’t know, I just didn’t think it was that funny. The movie tries to add some variety to the violence by having someone’s head flattened with a van tire, but it really didn’t do much to keep me invested in the proceedings.
That’s a shame, because the movie has a wonderful cast. The underrated Armie Hammer is quite charming as Ord, one of the few people in the warehouse with any sense, and Sharlto Copley turns in a deliciously over-the-top performance as Vernon, one of the many people in the warehouse with no sense at all. Cillian Murphy’s IRA member Chris is the closest thing to a sympathetic figure that we’re likely to get. On the other end of the spectrum, we get an irritating Sam Riley as the vile junkie Stevo, as well as an oddly miscast Brie Larson (those are words I never thought I would use) as Justine, a secretive figure who says she’s a part of IIFM (which stands for In It For Myself).
The movie also looks terrific. You wouldn’t think a movie that takes place in an abandoned warehouse could look so good, but that’s just one of the ways in which production designer Paki Smith, art directors Paul Frost and Nigel Pollock, set decorator Liz Griffiths, and cinematographer Laurie Rose surprises you. The costumes by Emma Fryer should also not be overlooked. The problem is that when a movie has nothing to offer but a lot of shooting and limping and crawling and more shooting and limping and crawling, it’s very easy to get bored. Serving as an executive producer is ace filmmaker Martin Scorsese, and with him attached to the production, you’d expect a movie with a little more meat on it. Not this time.
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)
Rated R for tons of violence, some gore, lots of profanity, sexual references, some drug content