Blu-ray Review: Free Fire | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021  

Free Fire

Studio: Lionsgate

Jul 18, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Boston in the movies is often a violent, crime-sodden place—just ask Dennis Lehane and Ben Affleck. Ben Wheatley (director, co-writer and co-editor) and his regular collaborator and wife Amy Jump (co-writer and co-editor) may come from the UK but they’re happy to run with this tried and tested stereotype. In fact, much of the joy of Free Fire comes from keeping everything simple. Well, that and one of the most grueling shootouts to hit screens in a long time.

The story, such as there is one, avoids complications. An arms deal is going down in an abandoned warehouse in 1978. On one side stand two IRA members, Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) looking to get hold of a stash of M16s. For muscle, they have the somewhat feckless duo of Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti).

Opposite them we find the flamboyantly-dressed Vernon (Sharlto Copley), slick Ord (Armie Hammer), and gritty Justine (Brie Larson) with backing from Martin (Babou Ceesay), Gordon (Noah Taylor) and Harry (Jack Reynor.) It will come as no surprise to find things do not go to plan, and soon everyone is ducking for cover and unleashing all kinds of minutely detailed hell on each other for an hour and a half.

It’s a hell rarely seen in Hollywood shootouts. Wheatley has been clear from the go he didn’t want another explosive, over-the-top gun battle. This is an arduous slog for the combatants with much humor dragged from the predicament. People end up scattered about the dirty, rubbish strewn floor, often reduced to crawling after taking bullets in various limbs. Fingers are left smarting, masonry falls on heads, anything that comes to hand can be used as shelter, and friendly fire is rife.

Just how much anyone can be said to be on anyone’s side is a key question of course. With money and guns lying around the room, already fragile relationships start to break. Cinematographer Laurie Rose keeps himself busy sweeping the camera in for close-ups and low-angle shots, sowing general confusion before pulling back to give a brief overview of the battle. These moments rarely last long before Free Fire dives back in. It’s confusing because the battle is confusing. The claustrophobic madness of a situation that sees multiple petty feuds unfold within the larger conflict is expertly captured.

Wheatley and Jump’s screenplay also draws a fair few laughs. The dialogue isn’t quite as razor sharp as it wishes to be, but with such a high-quality cast—Murphy’s stoicism, Hammer’s unruffled suaveness and Copley’s shrieking are the standouts—the wobbly one-liners land harder than they should. Where they find real comedy is in the fighting itself. It’s as fun to watch Copley’s beloved suit degenerating into rags as it is to watch the ridiculous squabble between Harry and Stevo reach gruesome heights.

Not that it matters who wins or loses; Free Fire is all about the ride. And on that score, it offers a heck of a good time.

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 10/10


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