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Free Fire aims squarely for genre thrills, and hits its target repeatedly and with great gusto -- albeit with something less than pure cinematic grace.
Free Fire aims squarely for genre thrills, and hits its target repeatedly and with great gusto -- albeit with something less than pure cinematic grace.
All Critics (219)
| Top Critics (35)
| Fresh (150)
| Rotten (69)
Without soul or wit, we're left with nothing but bad Halloween costumes and artillery. Nostalgia never felt so bad.
For those who don't mind a little blood & gore and a lot of profanity, Free Fire is a superior alternative to the big-name, bloated action films hogging the largest screens in most multiplexes.
Cornfed curse words fuel a script that doesn't amount to much more than a hateful snatch of Tarantino's set-bound posturing, spiked with a blend of pre-Madonna, semi-intelligible Guy Ritchie oddballs.
Ben Wheatley shouldn't settle for becoming the next Guy Ritchie. For some reason, he'd like to.
Armie Hammer has a gift for deadpan humor, and it's put to great use here. Cillian Murphy is the closest thing to a hero (or at least anti-hero we can root for) in the movie. Brie Larson is a gamer.
If its clip gets emptied before the characters' ammunition runs out, the film still hits its target dead-center.
...so cortex-decaying in its emptiness that it precludes all matter and meaning.
Wheatley does bring some heavy ammunition, but his film fails to measure up as either an action tour de force, genre thriller, or a commentary on gun culture.
It's tightly choreographed with some knowing, throwaway dialogue and it must have demanded some very physical performances from its quirky characters.
A golden hour and a half, if a slightly tarnished one. The many wisecracks fire as fast as the bullets in this enjoyable and stylish gangland romp, though it's curiously unengaging and I never cared who would win.
Free Fire is Wheatley's most accessible film that entertains with its wonderful cast, the witty, quotable script and confident direction. It may not hit a bullseye with perfect accuracy, but unlike the characters, it's certainly ain't a bad shot.
Wheatley brings a bit of style to everything, with a couple of clever set pieces that give the film a boost in some spots. Unfortunately, the film starts to drag about midway through and it starts to feel like it is stuck in neutral.
The promotional campaign for Ben Wheatley's "Free Fire" had me convinced it would be the divisive filmmaker's first film to truly satisfy. Wheatley's got talent, and each of his films have impressed me on one hand and let me down on another. "Kill List" and "A Field in England" are the biggest examples I have of this. He revels in fractured, sub-coherent plotting and uneasy genre-blending; and I have found the results frustrating so far. With the Scorsese stamp of approval, "Free Fire" looked to be a stylish, straight-forward yarn with a simple albeit bold hook that could fully and unpretentiously display Wheatley's entertaining side.
The result is Wheatley's most accessible film to date. Set primarily during one sustained action sequence (a shootout in an abandoned warehouse), "Free Fire" cooks as a straight, no-frills action thriller with comedic elements. Wheatley has dropped the Lynchian flourishes and surreal horror found in most of his work for something resembling a "Budget Tarantino." Dialogue is fired faster and with more reckless abandon than bullets in the picture. It's as if there are two shootouts running congruent to each other for 80 minutes.
The film's greatest strength is it's cast. This is an uncommonly A-grade ensemble for such a grungy little piece of work.
I don't understand the praise and hype heaped upon filmmaker Ben Wheatley. He's got a nice eye for visuals but whenever I see his name attached as a screenwriter, my expectations sink. His 2016 film High Rise was on my list of the worst films of last year. To my mind, Wheatley is Nicolas Refn (Neon Demon) lite, and I don't even care for Refn. With that being said, the premise and star power for Free Fire looked enough to even out my immediate hesitation about watching another Wheatley film. It looked like fun. How could it not be? Well I'm now debating whether I disliked Free Fire more than High Rise, a scenario with no real winner.
In 1978, two gangs meet in a Boston warehouse to make an exchange of guns and drugs for money. Things go wrong, tempers flare, and bullets are exchanged. Both parties are pinned down, fighting for cover, and looking to come out alive and on top. There's Cillian Murphy, Oscar-winning Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Michael Smiley, and Sharlto Copley among this dingy dozen.
Exiting my theater screening, I got into a discussion with my pal, Ben Bailey. He was adamant that the story premise of Free Fire could not be done as a feature film and was, at best, the sort of material for a 20-minute shoot-em-up short. I argued that with the proper development there could be a scraggly feature film here but the key phrase is "proper development," something that is sorely lacking from Free Fire. Ultimately it feels more like Ben's assessment: 20 minutes of thin material and thought stretched out to an interminable 85 minutes.
Once the shootout commences, it feels like Wheatley just succumbs to the cacophonous confusion of the action and more or less gives up. For a solid twenty minutes or so, the movie is nothing more than a series of disjointed shots of people firing and people taking cover from wooden boxes and planks, rarely if ever coalescing to produce a sense of direction, momentum, and geography. I didn't know where anybody was and especially in relationship to anyone else. That is a crucial factor in action sequences especially in a limited location action sequence. You need to know who is where and establish different mini-goals and new challenges. Wheatley only introduces new elements late into the proceedings, and when he does they are anticlimactically resolved. When complications do arrive they are brushed aside and we go back to shooting. Why not involve the guns in those crates as something to be fought over to gain extra leverage? That seems like an obvious goal but not to the characters on screen. I lost track of which characters were with which side, and the movie even tries to make the same joke, as if knowingly acknowledging this aspect forgives Free Fire for its plotting misfires.
As minute after minute of blind shooting went on, I started making connections to a question I have had with Terrence Malick (Tree of Life, Song to Song) movies, namely how does one edit these things? If you've never seen a modern Malick movie, first consider yourself fortunate, but the man is known for his whispery, stream-of-consciousness spiritual connections with nature. My question with Malick movies: how does someone know that this shot of light through the leaves needs to be here, and definitely before this shot of a caterpillar moving along a tree branch? How do you edit what is bereft of a traditional coherency? I wondered the same question during Free Fire. Without those mini-goals, how does one edit just gunshot after gunshot after gunshot without any credible change in the story's impetus as guidance?
Compounding my boredom and general confusion is the reality that these criminal lowlifes are dull characters and not worth the investment. Wheatley and co-screenwriter Amy Jump fail to provide interesting personalities or quirks or anything memorable to enliven these tough-talking bad-shooting bad guys. Some of them have accents, one of them is a woman, one of them likes to smoke pot, but really they're all slight variations on the same excitable, profane, and shallow archetype, the kind of character that gets their own poster in marketing with a nickname like "The Kid" or something cool-sounding like that, but it's all posturing. I thought that Free Fire might be reminiscent of the rise of Tarantino knockoff films in the 90s (The Big Hit, 2 Days in the Valley, Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, Suicide Kings) but this movie actually made me yearn for a Tarantino knockoff.
These people are so lifeless. I didn't care who lived and who died. They were all boring. Some faces are recognizable like Hammer and Smiley and Murphy but a majority of the characters are not, at least initially visually distinctive. It's a failing of creativity to separate them, make them distinct. Much of the acting is just reacting to squibs going off and squirming on the ground. If you have a fetish for Brie Larson (Kong: Skull Island) wriggling, this is your film. By default the best actor is Copley (Hardcore Henry) as he seems to be on an uncontrollable improv stint, rapidly saying whatever things comes to mind. Something has to fill the audio between gunfire.
Free Fire wants to be a scuzzy, crazy, fun movie that knows it's trashy and revels in its bad taste and loony characters with nose-thumbing glee. Instead, Free Fire is a nihilistic and tedious enterprise lacking entertaining characters, coherent action, and most importantly any general sense of fun. Watching characters that are unmemorable, who you don't care about, fire guns indiscriminately for a long time is not a movie, and it's most certainly not a good movie. It's a glorified training manual for firearms. Free Fire takes too long to get started with poorly developed characters and when it does kick into action the movie doesn't really improve too much. Free Fire is a Tarantino knockoff that doesn't have the courage of its own B-movie convictions. It thinks just dressing the part is enough, substituting style and a blithe attitude for not even substance but the appearance of substance. It only has one truly memorable, queasy death, so even when it comes to bizarre violence it falters. This is one movie that wants to look cool and irreverent but ends up merely firing blanks.
Nate's Grade: D+
Films revolving around one location throughout its entire run time have always been hit or miss for me. Films like 127 Hours that work unique visuals in, in order to tell the story, are remarkable, but films like Free Fire just don't have enough substance to sustain its 90 minute run time. Personally, this film would have worked as great action-packed short film that stuffed everything into about 20 minutes. Although directed with class and performed magnificently by a devoted cast all around, it really comes down to keeping your audience engaged, and while I was, it very quickly became repetitive as the film progressed. Free Fire is quite fun for a while, until it becomes slightly tiresome. Here are my thoughts on this average, yet entertaining shoot-em'-up flick.
Plain and simple, Free Fire follows two groups of men (along with one woman) as an arms deal is about to go down. Beginning with a simple misunderstanding, toppled with grudges between certain characters, an all-out gun fight occurs, pretty much lasting the full 90 minutes. Not taken too seriously, this film tries to be comedic at times, but sometimes that aspect falls flat, due to the fact that the hilarity dies out and it starts to take itself a little too seriously, dealing with some pretty dramatic and graphic scenery. This fun and simplistic premise works for the most part, but the action does become repetitive, making for a bit of a bore in the second act.
There are quite a few moments when the film slows down in order to service characters that have yet to be developed, but those moments don't last long at all. Each and every time the film decided to slow itself down, I was hoping for some flashbacks for some of the core characters, which would in turn make me care about who lives and who dies. Having not received that, I found myself realizing that wasn't their intention in the first place. This is a film that is meant to just make you sit back, relax, and see who lives and who dies, without consequence. Could this film have been improved by adding a few other locations and character backstory? Yes, but that didn't seem to be the intention.
Walking out of this film, the biggest positive I find myself commending this film on, is its cast and their interaction with one another. I believed every second of their interaction. Every word coming out of their mouths were either meant for comedic effect or to move the story alone, due to the small nature of the story. I loved the casting choices for everyone involved with this film, and the final product serves as a nice little comedic showcase for most of these talented performers. What is disappointing is the fact that this film is not being seen by enough moviegoers, once again proving that not every original premise can be successful.
In the end, I found myself quite enjoying the set-up for this film and the shootout itself is pretty fun to watch, but after about 30 minutes, it does seem to feel slightly repetitive. The cast works great together and the violence is definitely effective when it needs to be, but the main flaw is that I honestly couldn't tell if I was supposed to be laughing or mourning throughout certain moments. Free Fire definitely has impressive aspects and I can recommend it to action junkies or films stylized like Reservoir Dogs, but audiences members outside of that demographic may be turned off quite a bit. In the end, this is just another average action flick with a few above average sequences. I enjoyed it for the most part, but it barely warrants a recommendation as a whole.
PECK AND PAW - My Review of FREE FIRE (2 Stars)
British director Ben Wheatley sure does love the 70s and confined spaces. His last film, HIGH-RISE, featured ultra-sleek visuals set almost entirely within the titular building. I admire filmmakers who rise to the challenge of confronting claustrophobia head-on, and extra points for adding bell bottoms and shag hairdos to the mix! His latest, co-written with frequent collaborator Amy Jump, sets itself entirely within a warehouse and eschews the previously-used sheen for a grimy, grainy aesthetic most likely as an homage to the films of Sam Peckinpah, such as STRAW DOGS, THE KILLER ELITE, and THE GETAWAY. Truth be told, when I first saw the trailer for FREE FIRE, I thought it was the cinematic reboot of THE MOD SQUAD. Up to a point, it may as well be, but then things take a much more bloody turn.
The filmmakers deftly set up the story. Justine (Brie Larson) and her co-horts, including Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) seek to purchase assault rifles from Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his gang, all of which has been brokered by Ord (Armie Hammer), who in his condescending way, tries to keep the peace. The slight contentiousness of the deal worsens when one of Vernon's people, Harry (SING STREET's amazing Jack Raynor), recognizes Stevo (Sam Riley) from Justine's group as a man who assaulted his sister the prior evening. All hell breaks loose and the entire rest of the film consists of a gun battle. The End.
Ugh. Once the bullets started to fly, I checked out. It just went on and on and on with virtually no point to any of it. As a genre exercise, I can certainly appreciate the sustained tension, the ability to make a confined space interesting, the mastery of such a complicated fight roadmap , and the tough, spirited performances, but a loud, endless nod to better works with literally nothing else on its mind does not a great movie make. If you Google Image "Free Fire Poster", however, you're in for a real throwback treat. I love and want EVERY SINGLE ONE SHEET! It took me back to a time when studios released films with such titles as MOTHER, JUGS, and SPEED or DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY. It seemed like every week, B-movies with scuzzy visuals would come out and provide a cheap thrill or too. FREE FIRE aims as low as its older cousins...and, yay?
Despite my overall loathing of the film, it does have its bright spots. Most of the cast gets to shine, with Larson relishing the opportunity to scream, shoot, and take bullets with the gusto of Ali Macgraw or Susan George. Copley annoys the hell out of me in almost everything he's done, but I can't deny that he likes taking things to the edge. Here, he presents himself as a wackier version of Christian Bale in AMERICAN HUSTLE, and he's pretty fun, but I just wanted his character to die sooner rather than later. Hammer has some fun, commanding moments, and Riley does a fine job subbing for what was obviously the Michael Shannon part.
After a while, however, it all descends into a pile of mush. I gave up caring who was with who and the filmmakers almost deliberately blur those lines anyhow. It's an existentialist nightmare with almost no reason to exist. I suppose you could do worse than watching really good actors take bullets for 90 minutes in a deft genre exercise, but then again, maybe you can't.
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