R, 90 mins.
2017, R, 90 mins.
Cillian Murphy as Chris / Brie Larson as Justine / Armie Hammer as Ord / Jack Reynor as Harry / Michael Smiley as Frank / Sharlto Copley as Vernon / Noah Taylor as Gordon / Sam Riley as Stevo / Enzo Cilenti as Bernie / Babou Ceesay as Martin
Directed by Ben Wheatley / Written by Wheatley and Amy Jump
back in the early to mid 1990's when Quentin Tarantino burst onto the
movie scene with RESERVOIR DOGS
and PULP FICTION, which showcased
his highly unique amalgam of blood curdling violence and poetically
verbose and pop culture riffing criminal degenerates?
I do too. Good times.
with the rise of Tarantino also came a depressing rise of films that were
trying to capitalize on and appropriate his films' wonderful macabre and
then trendsetting style, which unavoidably leads me to the new
action-comedy FREE FIRE. Ben
Wheatley's (HIGH RISE) latest film certainly displays a fierce
never-look-back gusto that's refreshing, not to mention that its
impressively minimalist story design and execution is nifty (two groups of lowlifes
meet in an abandoned warehouse to do a weapons deal...and it goes south
real fast...that's about it). Yet,
despite the film's brazen edge and spirit and a strongly assembled cast, FREE FIRE never fully emerges as a
wholly original film. If
anything, it feels like an antiquated by-product of that aforementioned
cinematic era that had filmmakers trying to recapture and re-brand the
Tarantino formula, often with middling results.
The plot to this
film, as alluded to earlier, is about as bare bones as it gets.
FREE FIRE opens in 1970's Boston (a somewhat unnecessary period
only made necessary by one key plot point that requires characters not
having access to smart phones to get them out of a very hairy predicament)
and introduces us to all of its key characters rather swiftly.
A gun deal is about to go down in a grimy and grungy warehouse,
with the buyers being represented by two members of the IRA, Chris (Cillian
Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), whom are both flanked by two
inexcusably clumsy oafs, Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti).
The sellers show up with prized goods, made up of the motormouthed
and twitchy Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his partners Harry (Jack Reynor),
Gordon (Noah Taylor), and Martin (Babou Ceesay).
The middleman brokering the deal is Ord (Armie Hammer) with
assistance by Justine (Brie Larson, the only female in this testosterone
deal...well...doesn't go well. Firstly, Chris lambastes Vernon for bringing the wrong
weapons originally specified. Secondly,
and worst of all, a verbal jousting match between Harry and Bernie
regarding what he did or didn't do to Harry's female cousin erupts into
bullet spraying bloodshed, which consequently leads to both the buyers and
sellers quickly seeking cover from each other.
The rest of FREE FIRE is ostensibly one long standoff between both
parties hurling insults when they're not wounding each
other to the point where they all begin to crawl around on the ground like
infants. Seeing that no
end is apparently in sight, both parties begin to realize the danger of
their situation with the possibilities of no one emerging from the
warehouse alive when the literal and figurative smoke clears.
FREE FIRE makes
splendid usage of its wide collared and porn stached adorned disco era
rather well, even though, as mentioned, it's mostly creatively unnecessary
(the film could have taken place just as easily in the present).
Nevertheless, Wheatley and his cast display great relish in
adopting the look and feel of the time period.
And speaking of the cast, Wheatley has gathered together an
impeccable one with most of them bringing their own unique brand of
idiosyncratic charm to their disreputable characters.
Sharlto Copley is the film's standout, bringing his characteristic
brand of unpredictable comic edge to Vernon that's pretty infectious.
I also liked Armie Hammer's turn as the deadpanning Ord, who seems
remarkably assured and level headed considering the mayhem that
transpiring around him. Also
worth mentioning is Jack Reynor (so good in the best film of last year in SING
STREET), who does a remarkably decent job playing up to his
character's rampant and unhinged hooliganism.
FREE FIRE is 90 per cent action, which gives Wheatley the thorny task of making one
gunfire exchange after the other feel invigoratingly different from what
transpired beforehand. Initially,
creating some semblance of spatial geography with all of the enemy
combatants seems a bit chaotically engineered by Wheatley, but as the film
progresses and finds its aesthetic groove he crafts some grizzly and
shockingly funny moments at the expense of the character's intense pain
and suffering. Part of the
dark and twisted humor of FREE FIRE comes in the form of showing all of its
characters rolling on the ground in agony from their bullet
wounds, which gives the film a perverse slapstick edge that's hard not to
laugh at. I've never seen an
action film before with as many people crawling away from and shooting
each other as opposed to running and shooting.
FREE FIRE free
falls, though, very early on in the sense that, deep down, all of its
characters are very poorly defined and are given very little embellishment
beyond personality quirks. As a direct result of there being nearly zero character
development on display, I found it increasingly hard to really give a damn
about anyone in FREE FIRE and whether or not any one key player would
survive. As an exercise in
savage comic violence, Wheatley certainly crafts an assured piece of
visceral filmmaking, but it's really all for naught when the people that
populate the film unavoidably become bullet riddled props at the service
of the film's barbarism (Larson in particular, a recent Oscar winner for ROOM,
is disappointingly squandered here).
For a film that's a mercifully short 90 minutes, it's disheartening
to experience its protracted shootout making the enterprise feel twice as
long. FREE FIRE comes across
more as a soulless endurance test than it does an exhilaratingly swift and
enjoyable action thriller.
Rather perplexingly, FREE FIRE was executive produced by Martin Scorsese, who has certainly made his fair share of violent pictures featuring scumbag criminals. Yet, I struggled throughout FREE FIRE wondering what was his overall attraction to this bare bones material. That, and Wheatley's film, when all is said and done, is just a retooled RESERVOIR DOGS that certainly thinks its as self-referentially hip and cool as anything Tarantino did in the early stages of his career, but unfortunately woefully lacks his innovative panache. FREE FIRE has some pulpy energy, a few stalwart performances, and a handful of crackerjack action sequences that deliver, but overall the film is dramatically hollow and left me feeling empty as I left the cinema.
It also made me
want to rush home and take a long hot shower, which I'm not altogether
sure was the intended effect.