Movie Review: Free Fire

Certificate 15, 90 minutes

Director: Ben Wheatley

Stars: Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer

Free Fire opens at night with two men in a Winnebago, both Irish. The RV is being driven by Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) whilst the other, Stevo (Sam Riley), looks a bit worse for wear. He has a black eye and apparently came out second best in a fight the previous night, so takes a hit of drugs for his headache.

Free FireIn what looks like a rundown industrial area, a man, Frank (Michael Smiley), waits outside a car. Frank would seem to be Stevo’s brother-in-law, although there doesn’t appear to be a lot of love lost between the town of them. Inside the car is another man, Chris (Cillian Murphy), and a woman, Justine (Brie Larson, Kong: Skull Island). Both Chris and Frank are also Irish – Chris would appear to be in charge and Frank, despite being by far the oldest of the people here, his second. Justine seems to be American.

After Bernie and Stevo arrive, another man approaches. This is Ord (Armie Hammer), who is also American, and the Irish are here to buy some guns. Justine and Ord would appear to be intermediaries who have set up the whole meet, with Ord being with the sellers and Justine with the buyers. With all the buyers here, and after Ord checks everyone for wires, the group head into a nearby abandoned factory.

Inside, Ord calls out for the sellers and Verne (Sharlto Copley), a South African by the sounds of it (Copley is South African, although he usually doesn’t play up his accent as much as this), although the Irish find his accent puzzling, and his associate Martin (Babou Ceesay); according to Justine, Martin was a Black Panther but it didn’t work out.

Verne pulls out a sample weapon, and Chris is not pleased by this. He ordered M16s, and he seems to say these are AR-17s (although there might be an error here; the AR-17 looks like it may be a shotgun variant). They are anyway similar models of the same gun; the M16 is a military variant and the other, whatever it is, would seem to be the civilian model of the same. Verne tells Chris that he’s not a pizza delivery guy, and offers to let him try the gun. Which Chris does. The entire situation is quite tense, with both sides being on the defensive about it, and Verne in particular being a bit irritating. However, Chris finally agrees that the guns are good, and brings out the money. This is counted by Martin, and is all there, so the deal is going to go down.

In another part of the warehouse is a van with two men inside it, Gordon (Noah Taylor) and Harry (Jack Raynor). Harry has damaged his knuckles recently – as if, say, he punched someone in the face the previous night. At this point a potential problem can be foreseen. The van has the guns in it, so Verne calls them to drive it in to the main room. When Stevo sees Harry, he immediately recognises him as the man he had a dispute with. Stevo tries to keep hidden, but eventually he’s seen by Harry, who then promptly loses his cool. Stevo had asked Harry’s 17 year old cousin to do something and, when she refused, bottled her. Harry is not happy about this, Verne is not happy either, and Chris and Frank are not happy with Stevo causing problems in this situation. After beating him up a bit, they tell Stevo to apologise to Harry.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t; instead he winds Harry up a bit more, Harry pulls a gun out of the van and shoots Stevo, Stevo pulls a gun out himself and fires back and the whole situation deteriorates from here and any attempt at further plotting goes out of the window. Both sides have weapons, although perhaps fortunately the bullets for the assault rifles are not easily reachable. Matters are further complicated when two men with rifles, Jimmy (Mark Monero) and Howie (Patrick Bergin), start shooting at both groups from cover. Presumably, someone found out about the deal and decided to kill both sides for the money. This adds more tension to what is already a complicated situation; there are at least three sides and both Justine and Ord are intermediaries.

From this point on the film is various people shooting at each other, with the sides, very slowly, being whittled down by the gunfire. Very slowly because, despite everyone being armed, they aren’t very good at killing people, and some get up again after they are thought to be dead. People get shot in the legs and arms a lot and by the end of the film pretty much everyone has been crawling around on the floor, and not to keep out of the line of fire, but because they can’t walk easily from being shot in the leg or otherwise wounded. During this gunfight, Verne continues being annoying and Ord is the one who seems to keep his cool the most. The two new shooters, despite having surprise against two sides that were busy shooting at each other, prove equally incompetent at rapidly gunning down their enemies. This is the sort of film where it seems unlikely that anyone is going to have a happy ending.

Not a lot of time is spent on character development or plot after the fight breaks out, apart from the question of who hired the two new shooters. This isn’t necessarily bad in an action comedy but, unfortunately, it’s a bit sluggish. Free Fire isn’t anywhere near as much non-stop frenetic action as the trailer might suggest, as the trailer seems to consist largely of action scenes without any of the intervening bits.

It isn’t made clear when or even where the film is actually set, other than presumably in the United States, nor who the gun buyers are. Guesses could be made for the Eastern seaboard of the US, given that the Irish have travelled 3,000 miles for this deal, in the 1970s going by the clothing and general styles, in which case Boston would seem a likely bet. Nor is it made clear who the Irish actually are, although a guess could be made here for the IRA, or a similar organisation. The film apparently is set in Boston in 1978, and they buyers are apparently IRA, but this was only found out after the film – it’s never mentioned in it. Either a bit more time needed to be spent on this or the tempo of the action should have been upped a bit.

There are some funny bits in the film, despite the fact that all of the people in it get injured at some point, sometimes quite messily, and even the violence is funny on occasion. It’s all caused by an event spiralling out of control due to the actions of a junkie the previous night. Free Fire is fairly fun to watch, but not as entertaining or as action-packed as might be thought.


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