(Photo via A24 Pictures)
Ben Wheatley‘s latest, Free Fire, is a blast to watch from beginning to end. I’m regretting having not seen the film during this year’s SXSW Film Festival, but I’m happy that word of mouth has continued to be strong about this wildly fun and entertaining little action film. Free Fire premiered all the way back at last year’s Toronto, and has been making the festival rounds ever since, with the film finally being released in the UK back in March and here in the United States this past weekend. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s a witty little action spectacle that’s well-acted, written, and directed.
The film takes place in 1978 Boston. An arms deal is taking place between two gangs. One gang, led by the annoying and cocky Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and the equally annoying/cocky Ord (Armie Hammer), who represnts the group of two IRA members Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) vying for the weapons. The rest of the group is made up of an American intermediary named Justine (Brie Larson), and two knucklehead drivers (Sam Reilly, Enzo Cilenti). There’s already tension in the air once the deal goes down, but due to a beef between two members from both sides of the gang, the deal escalates and a Mexican standoff (of sorts) takes place for the rest of the film.
Wheatley, who co-writes along with Amy Jump (she wrote the screenplay to Wheatley’s last film, High-Rise) has essentially remade Reservoir Dogs. Like that film, this film takes place entirely within one setting. While Reservoir Dogs incorporates flashbacks to give a backstory to how Mr. White and the crew got to that warehouse, this film takes place in real-time, without any flashbacks. You don’t get to know these characters outside of this warehouse, so you get the idea that everybody in the film are kind-of awful human beings. Once the shooting begins, so does the backstabbing by each and everyone, even with people on the same side. That’s not a criticism. All the characters here are extremely colorful and unique in their own ways that watching them interact makes up for their irredeemability. This factor also helps especially if/when some of these characters get brutally shot and/or dead.
The stand-outs for me where Sharlto Copley and Brie Larson. Copley, who’s rocking this hilariously expensive suit and 70’s haircut, has some of the best lines and moments in the entire film. Copley is one of those great character actors that almost exclusively appears in genre films like this one, and makes you wonder if that’s out of personal choice for the actor or if Hollywood has totally ignored this unbelievably talented actor. Anyway, it was great seeing him in one of his funniest roles to date. As for Larson, she’s great primarily out of the fact that she’s one of this generation’s finest actors, and is somebody that I can watch in just about anything and enjoy her performance in.
The same can be said for this film. She’s probably the least scummy out of the bunch of actors (her and Cillian Murphy’s character), which isn’t saying much about the character’s moral compass, it’s a fun, funny, charming, and badass role for the actress. I’m hoping we still get niche roles like this from the actor before she begins her career in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. All the performances in this film are terrific, like Cillian Murphy as the quiet leader of the bunch, and Armie Hammer as the cocky representative for the group. The film itself or its ideas might aren’t the most original or innovative, but the strong characters and strong performances help make for a helluva ride from beginning to end.
If you’re looking for a fun little action flick that delivers on a lot of its promises from beginning to end, then Free Fire might be your kind of movie before the summer movie season starts to overwhelm us all. The film might be a lesser version of Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, but the characters, the action, and the writing make the film highly entertaining instead of it feeling repetitive or stale. If I’m correct, the film is basically playing in wide release, so you shouldn’t have too much of a problem trying to find this A24 release, which has quickly become of the best distributors for niche films like this one to get a large audience. I look forward to seeing more of their films in the future.