By Shelby Fielding (Lubbock, Texas)
A24 is a studio that caught my eye in 2013 with their highly praised romantic comedy-drama film known as The Spectacular Now. With an intriguing story and forward thinking with its filmmaking, I started paying attention to them. It was soon after when they continued their success with unique, breathtaking films such as Enemy, Under The Skin, Ex Machina, Room, The Witch, Swiss Army Man, and the 2017 best picture winner Moonlight. I didn’t see them making a below average film shortly until I saw Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire. Free Fire is a simplistic narrative set in 1978, where two gangs meet for a gun deal that turns sour and launches a shootout leaving the audience to question who’s going to walk out alive. Though its simplistic and whimsical, Free Fire falls flat most of the time due to its almost reliance on comedy when it should take a turn for the dramatic.
Atrocious or an abomination are words I wouldn’t use to describe this film, though it is a letdown for a studio that has been developing interesting examples of what makes filmmaking so awe-inspiring as an art form. The filmmaking itself is not reflective of their past successes, but it is not rotten or off-putting. Ben Wheatley relies on handheld camera for most of the ninety minute run time of Free Fire. This style is something expected from a Michael Bay blockbuster, not an independent studio that relishes the tracking shot. The handheld cam is not a terrible idea itself, but it’s a confusing viewpoint for the entirety of the film. Leading to me to question who is shooting who? In an action movie, this is a question you never want to be raised; the action should always present itself as intense but smooth, and easily watchable while white knuckling with its suspense. Something that hides from the screen in this film, but was that the intention?
I went in knowing the comical chops and quips would be rapid fire as displayed in the trailer. But, this witty banter between the criminals becomes the focus of the film, instead of the action itself which becomes a detriment to the screenplay and almost a hindrance on its believability. Leading to a loss in the first act when these people are missing their targets by a mile as if they are blindly firing out of lunacy or aggravation. Which holds faithful to the characters, but ruins the tension of the film and conflicts with the screenplay of the first act that is grounded as a gun heist film with quips to serve as bridging connection to the audience as Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs accomplished. Confusion surrounds this movie instead with its unfocused narrative that is split between a slapstick comedy and an enjoyable action thriller. Unsure of what it is, the studio attempts to provide a barrage of distraction with its remarkable cast that almost save the film entirely.
Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, and Enzo Cilenti are the standouts for me. With their undeniable charisma and comical charm to convey these ridiculously outlandish characters. Though the characters have little substance, you feel for them due to their hilarious one liners and banter on this nonsensical situation. These performances tend to end up coming across as cheesy and unrealistic, despite their interesting viewpoints on this crazy happenstance that they find themselves in. The character development itself is to blame for this reliance on whimsical dialogue with this conceptualizing as a film in the moment type. Though it is different and wacky, this lack of character development is what acts as the barrier between the audience and the screen.
Free Fire is fun at times don’t get me wrong, but it conflicts against its tones and fails to resonate completely with me. I enjoy its relatability and its humor, but I left desperate for a stronger narrative to sink my teeth into. A24 is still one of the most remarkable studio’s workings in the world of filmmaking today, but this feels like a rushed attempt at whimsical action film to pay some bills. Reminding us that these studios still require financial successes to maintain creation. Just like most of us, studios have to risk creative integrity for profit. Though I believe this is a rare uncharacterized occurrence for A24, the nightmare of the implosion of the film continues to become a fear in reality. Leaving me to hope that A24 can continue to carry us out of the wilderness and back into the promised land.
[referring to Ord]
Justine: Here he is. This is Ord.
Ord: It’s good to meet you boys, thanks for coming out.
[he shakes Chris’s hand, then he extends his hand to Frank who ignores it]
Frank: A bit later.
Ord: You didn’t masturbate before you got here, did you?
Ord: I told you, I don’t want to work with anybody who’s carrying a loaded weapon.
Ord: So if you need time go find yourself a dark corner…
[he motions the hand-job and chuckles]
Ord: I’m just saying relax. It’s all good. If you wouldn’t mind, as we agreed upon I’ll check for wires.
Frank: I’ve got a gun.
Ord: Good. And soon you guys will have even more.
[he finishes patting down Frank then moves to Chris]
Ord: Come on, big guy.
Chris: You know where I’m from, boy, you’d be halfway up the albino.
Ord: [to Stevie] Would you hold your makeup there for me? Thank you.
[then he starts patting down Gordon]
Ord: Alright there, Smokie.
Gordon: You smell good.
Ord: Thank you. It’s your mother.
[walks back to Chris and Frank]
Ord: Okay, no wires. No one’s listening in. I guess we’re all friends.
[referring to Stevie and Gordon]
Ord: The, uh, the fag and the retard are an interesting choice of muscle to bring to the party.
Chris: You know what, fuck the small talk. Let’s buy some guns, hey?
Ord: Alright. Step into my office.