3 out of 5
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
While you were watching Heat, did you want that shootout sequence to keep going? How about those hyper post-Lock Stock flicks like Smokin’ Aces: did you thrill when things came to a head and wished any given peak scene could’ve gone on longer? How about something mixing those two styles – something drawn out and real; something stylized – and then extended to 90 minutes? With a John Denver soundtrack?
Once you realize this as the conceit of Ben Wheatley’s and constant co-writer Amy Jump’s Free Fire, that we’ll be spending the entire runtime hunkered down with its cast in a warehouse during a guns-for-money transaction, there’s an inclination to kowtow to the ballsiness of it; to marvel that someone’s going to execute a single room show without much plot to keep it going beyond bang-bang and expect us to keep watching. Not too much later, the underlying skepticism of that is whisked away as things escalate in all manners ridiculous and wowing and tense and hilarious and grotesque. …And a little after that, you might be checking your watch.
This is the rollercoaster Wheatley and Jump present in Free Fire: Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley and several others stack up on different sides of the transaction, each playing various tough guy / burnout / wild card personas that crumble when the shooting cripples nigh everyone. This is not a glorious gunfight but its also raucously stupid, which keeps allowing our filmmakers to kick it up a link in that stupid and silly chain when our attentions might wander. And there are points of utter genius here – that there’s so little to work with but that Wheatley, Jump, and their incredibly game and giving actors pack the screen with so much – that at points you’re fully sold on this thing, and ready to dial friends to tell them about their next Must Watch. But in order to hit those points, Wheatley and Jump understood the need for breaks, which inevitably make you question again: are we really doing this the whole time?
Yes, yes you are. Free Fire is the kind of flick that will become insanely awesome upon rewatches, all of those downbeats rife with character tics that’ll likely become funnier each and every view. Everyone gets bloody and dirty and unheroic; it is purposefully not Heat and not Lock Stock and – even told these things – likely not something you can ‘expect’ when first seeing it.