I’ve never been much of a gun guy in my everyday life (even as a Texan, a Cabella’s store is more puzzling than enticing to me) but I never have an issue with gun-oriented movies, especially when they’re top quality like the John Wick films or the first and fourth Die Hard movies (the two best ones in that franchise….come at me internet!). Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire doesn’t reach those heights of quality but still manages to be some solid grisly fun. It’s a shoot-em-up that keeps things simple (maybe a little too simple), confined and directly fixated on two things: over-the-top characters and bullets flying everywhere.
It was supposed to be a simple gun transaction. Vernon (Sharlto Copley) would bring the weapons to an abandoned warehouse for Justine (Brie Larson), Ord (Armie Hammer), Chris (Cillian Murphy) and their accomplices to pick up. But things begin to go awry pretty quickly when it turns out Vernon’s brought the wrong weapons to the deal and Vernon’s driver, Harry (Jack Reynor), reveals that he’s got a massive grudge against one of Justine and Ord’s associates. One thing leads to another and soon guns are going off, everyone’s scurrying behind walls and pillars for protection and there’s a big o’l case of money in the middle of the room.
This is bound to end with some blood on everyone’s hands.
That’s kind of it in terms of a plot and its biggest problem is that its a tad too straightforward at times. Sincere kudos for not trying to convolute the plot with confusing twists and turns that only exist to create overly manufactured drama, but it does feel too stagnant in terms of who the characters are and what they’re doing for certain scenes. I could easily see that type of plot structure working for some, and there are a bunch of virtues to be found in it for sure such as its more streamlined nature but I also couldn’t help but wish it had more meat on the bones or a more distinctive presentation of this plot.
Overly obvious plot aside though, Free Fire is still a hoot-and-a-half as an action movie, one that thrives thanks to a cornucopia of colorful characters brought to life by actors who are all obviously having a blast just going to town as some violence-prone skeevy scumbags. Brie Larson leads the piece as a character who could have used more personality herself (the more thinly-sketched nature of her character gets reinforced by just how much personality the other characters have) but Justine still plays off her cohorts quite well, who all etched their way into my memory super quickly. Among the highlights is Cillian Murphy as a more casual criminal who makes for a nicely unperturbed contrast to the other crooks in the room.
Jack Reynor, meanwhile, reaffirms that he’s got some serious chopsafter bursting onto my radar with Sing Street last year (which was a massive improvement from his Romeo & Juliet law scene in Trans4mers which is very much a thing that exists in this world) as a driver with a chip on his shoulder. and John Denver tunes in his radio. Then there’s Armie Hammer as a guy who’s convinced he’s the cock of the walk and thanks to the incredibly high amounts of natural charisma Hammer conveys with the character you can totally buy he’d have such a big head. He’s an absolute thrill in the role, especially when he keeps his cool as a cucumber persona intact even when the bullets fly. And as for Sharlto Copley, this guy always throws himself into whatever roles he’s playing to such a degree that he’s always a treat to watch and he makes Vernon a one of a kind creation that had me laughing quite frequently.
This cast is chock full of energy under the skillful direction of Ben Wheatley, who has fun channeling his inner early 1990’s Quentin Tarantino in bringing this tale of sordid criminals to life. Even when the simple premise rests too hard on conventionality or predictability, Wheatley lends the crime-ridden proceedings with an assured hand that certainly makes a world of difference and imbues the film with a giddy sense of depraved fun. Prepare for some bullets, prepare for some grisly violence and also prepare for a pretty good time with some super strong acting in the criminal-infested world of Free Fire.