From acclaimed British director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, Sightseers and High Rise), and executive produced by none other than cinema veteran Martin Scorsese, Free Fire is an action-comedy flick with a stellar cast and a simple, real-time concept.
Set in 1970s Boston, two gangs meet at an abandoned warehouse for a weapons deal. As tensions rise and personalities clash, things get out of hand between the two gangs, weapons are fired, and a shoot-out inevitably occurs, forcing them all to take cover in different areas of the warehouse.
With an ensemble cast to be envious of, including Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley and Noah Taylor, there really is no denying the name Wheatley has made for himself in the film industry.
However, it is arguable that Free Fire does not live up to his previous work. While the cast do a great job with what they are given, delivering quick fire wit and one-liners during almost every minute of the film, it is the style that really lacks here and leaves us feeling mildly underwhelmed.
Because the film takes place in real-time and in one place, we’re going to need some flair with style and visuals to hold our attention to what is a very straightforward plot. With camera work focussing solely on the characters’ wobbly movements around the warehouse, in sometimes jarring circular motions, there doesn’t seem to be any sort of stamp of ownership from Wheatley.
Also, an almost complete lack of suspense means the audience doesn’t really care who ends up dead or alive; it’s more like we’re just watching everything unfold.
Whereas the humour is mostly there, the writing still feels a little lacklustre for what could potentially be a brilliant ensemble character piece. In the downtime between bullets, all the characters, no matter whose side they are on, exchange quippy insults between themselves, before then proceeding to continue with their violent ways. Where this does work in the first half of the film, it begins to get a little tired as things start to heat up and finally move along.
The best character and performance, of the film is Vernon (Sharlto Copley), a South African “gangster” who is described as “misdiagnosed as a child genius”, and who is out of sorts when it comes to gun violence. Had it not been for his character, the film wouldn’t have been as entertaining. He provides some of the more organic humour and plot progression, and Copley’s portrayal of this character couldn’t have been performed by anyone else.
Free Fire provides audiences with a mildly entertaining hour and a half, some mostly intelligent writing and consistent humour throughout. It’s not a highly memorable movie, but also not a bad one. Wheatley has given us a finished and polished product, however nothing innovative or exciting enough to make audiences want more from the characters or story.
We give Free Fire 3 stars for providing a bit of fun and original entertainment. Undoubtedly saved by a brilliant cast and some well-written humour, it doesn’t leave us feeling like we have seen anything bold and new, but rather just another average crime caper.
Free Fire is out now on DVD & Blu-Ray.