Free Fire

By Debruge, Peter | Variety, September 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

Free Fire


Debruge, Peter, Variety


FILM REVIEW

Director: Ben Wheatley

Cast: Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor, Tom Davis, Mark Monero, Patrick Bergin

Twelve angry men and one tough "bird" walk into a dilapidated Boston warehouse and proceed to blast the building and one another to smithereens in "Free Fire," a dizzyingly choreographed - and unexpectedly comedic - shoot-'em-up in which the body count hits double digits, while the bullet count proves downright impossible to fathom. A virtuoso feat of indiscriminate gunplay from director Ben Wheatley - who is, without a doubt, the most exciting thing to hit British genre cinema since Guy Ritchie - this almost cartoonishly over-the-top action movie crosses the irreverent cheekiness of Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" with the ruthless spirit of 1970s B-movies.

Coming off her equally claustrophobic "Room," Brie Larson plays the only lady in a group of guys whose guns serve as all-too-obvious extensions of their easily bruised egos. With poncy negotiator Ord (a bearded Armie Hammer) serving as middleman, the group is pretty evenly split: In one corner, there's the contingent that wants the weapons, including Irish Republican Army operative Chris (Cillian Murphy), shaggy team captain Frank (Wheatley regular Michael Smiley), lovely accomplice Justine (Larson), and hired-muscle Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley). In the other stand their gun-running counterparts, represented by wheeler-dealer Vernon (South African actor Sharlto Copley, best known for "District 9"), Afro-sporting associate Martin (Babou Ceesay), duck-and-cover Gordon (Noah Taylor), and hothead Harry (an unrecognizable Jack Reynor).

With 30 assault rifles changing hands between them and additional concealed weapons on nearly everybody's person, the well-lit space - which casts the rubble of an old umbrella factory in gold, maroon and teal - is essentially a Mexican standoff waiting to happen, and Wheatley and co-writer/wife Amy Jump make sure that the tension is palpable. First, Murphy's character balks about the kind of guns he's buying; then we learn that Harry was the one who clocked black-eyed Stevo the night before.

Soon enough something's going to set these clowns off - though Wheatley manages to extend the suspense for nearly half an hour before the first antagonistic shot is fired. That bullet hits Stevo square in the chest, and he collapses to the ground in slow motion, giving everyone else in the room (and the theater) time to process what's happening. From here on, it's a free-for-all as everyone dives for cover, doing their best to pick off one another before getting shot themselves. The ensuing violence is treated with all the sanctity of a classic Tom and Jerry cartoon as the various characters take bullets to their backsides, popping up from behind hiding places to blast a few blind rounds in the general direction of their enemies.

With the exception of a gruesome wound that leaves one character's brains exposed (with a direct impact on his subsequent behavior), none of the injuries seem all that serious. Wheatley plays "Free Fire" as much for comedy as suspense, inviting us to laugh as bullets tear into the shoulder pads and sleeves of these tackily clad 1970s characters' polyester suits. One gets the sense that he doesn't want to kill anyone off too quickly, since it's clearly more fun to torment them with multiple flesh wounds over the course of the movie's epic flreflght. …

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