By: Hawk Ripjaw –
In 1970s Boston, a dilapidated warehouse has been chosen as the site for a gun sale. Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are making the purchase, with Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and the mysteriously battered Stevo (Sam Riley) standing by to transport the merchandise. Justine (Brie Larson), to whom Chris is immediately attracted to, is present to mediate the sale with the charismatic Ord (Armie Hammer), and introduce the salesmen, Martin (Babou Ceesay) and idiot loudmouth Vernon (Sharlto Copley). To help unload the guns, Gordon (Noah Taylor) and the bloody-knuckled Harry (Jack Reynor) wait around the corner. It takes only a few minutes for polite negotiations to turn into a battle of bullets and egos.
Free Fire is a brilliant example of how to make a film with a simple premise, make it interesting, and still have it interesting 90 minutes later without any additional frills. Director Ben Wheatley has streamlined this down to the barest skeleton of plot; it really is a 90-minute shootout (including less than 20 minutes of setup) that barely lets up. The biggest draw is the characters and how they interact with each other, as lines fired off in between gunshots fill in minimal spaces while keeping character development light. Sharlto Copley as the brash Vern is the movie’s driving energetic force, but this is still a true ensemble piece with no true protagonists or any singular point of view.
As Wheatley’s most broadly accessible film so far, it’s also very funny–what really causes things to fall apart, and continue to spiral further out of control, is the profound immaturity of early every single character, and the fact that every new bullet is a vindictive one to repay wounded flesh and feelings, and any opportunity for cooperation or escape is ignored or rejected in favor of scoring one more shot.
The entire movie is chaotic and a disorientating, but calculatedly so: it’s often hard to tell who is shooting at whom, but what’s often more important is who is getting shot at, and Wheatley ensures that we can see each painful shot. Moreover, even with a generally incoherent action tempo, there is still a great sense of direction and scale. Wheatley assembled close to 2,000 storyboards and even used Minecraft to build the set, just to ensure that the prop placement and scene blocking could be executed correctly. It’s a nice extra layer of attention to detail and another great reminder of Wheatley’s cerebral approach to any of his films–arguably his best, A Field in England, came about from his own intellectual curiosity. To see Wheatley tackle something like with with similar gusto is a delight.
While it expectedly starts to run out of steam in the back end, Wheatley continues to fuel the mayhem by breaking the main group apart into smaller, more intimate scuffles as the numbers are whittled down and each side starts to care less about whose side they’re on and more about being the last one standing by kneecapping everyone else. By the end, the director has gotten a lot of mileage out of a one-sentence premise, and made a hilarious, exciting and exceptionally well-written romp (the latter courtesy of Wheatley and his wife Amy Jump) that gives a lot more than it asks for. While not his best, Free Fire builds upon an already-remarkable, stylish filmography and reinforces the idea that if Wheatley has a ceiling, he isn’t even close to hitting it.
Free Fire (2017) Movie Drinking Game
Sip Your Drink: whenever someone gets shot.
Take a Drink: for each turncoat.
Do a Shot: for every death.
Take a Drink: whenever luck goes sour for a character.
Do a Shot: every time Ord sparks a blunt.