Due to hit cinemas on March 31st in the UK, Lee catches Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire early to give you his review of this action-comedy gunfight movie.
Here’s a recipe for fun: the simpler, the better. If you have a concept about, say, a gun deal going south in a warehouse and then everybody shooting at each other for an hour and a half, taking the risk to film simply that and not bloat it out with unnecessary political or social commentary will probably land you an accessible, easy to recommend, thoroughly enjoyable film. Congratulations to director Ben Wheatley then for doing just that with Free Fire, a concept film from start to finish that does exactly what it says on the tin then lets you go home.
That’s not to say the movie doesn’t tease intrigue beneath the works, with its vaguely realistic arms deal and a vaguely IRA-ish gang bringing a little colour to that 1970s colour scheme it wears so admirably. Teases in imagery and metaphor are scuttled about in off-hand jokes, but for the most part, the premise works simply as a chessboard with which to set up pawns and players, and, knowingly, the film lets tension build early on as we play out our favourite recurring Star Wars question: who shoots first?
Once the guns go off, it’s all a question of how to maintain momentum, and the film does an admirable job keeping the action coming. The rare slowdown to let the stock characters breathe and recalculate feels akin to the careful preparation that comes with the tipping of another domino, and soon the Rube Goldberg machine is running once again. Conspirators, phone calls, John Denver, ammo stashes and a suitcase of money – it’s Golden Age Hollywood stuff, with the update to language (i.e. swearing and slurs, lots of ‘em) and violence (only flinchingly bad in perhaps two hilarious scenarios) feeling rather necessary, a continuation of the earnest efforts of films like Grosse Point Blank meeting the Tarantino standards of the world we live in today.
Humour-wise, it’s not the most quotable film ever written, and for some that might be a reasonable slander, but it’s got enough international quirks to keep everyone modestly laughing. You’ll pick a favourite and hope they’re the one that makes it out; you might even accidentally like more than one, and feel the burden of hoping they never cross paths. It’s the kind of base chemistry simple stock character writing evokes when done right.
There are not too many faults – the ending is a bit of a cop-out, even with the best of intentions. In a movie like this, it feels there should be one last bang rather than a “twist”, but it doesn’t quite make it. The opportunity to end on a high was sort of neglected for something more specific to the wants of the writers, but it’s hard to imagine the audience appreciating the turn of events.
That and, if any character needed to be a little more than stock, it was Brie Larson’s. As the only girl, the story touts her as an active participant but she never appears more than passive at any one point, and it doesn’t quite line up with the intentions of the narrative. It’s no deal-breaker, but there’s a want there that never seems to connect.
Still, there’s much to appreciate in the details, which is bound to tick plenty of boxes for popcorn and cinema lovers alike. It’s funny, it’s quick, it doesn’t outstay its welcome and has more than enough memorable moments to watch a second time when it comes home to your personal collection of rainy day movies. Easiest recommendation of the year thus far.