By Ben Thumm (Chicago, IL, USA)
To quote the great Jim Carrey as Lloyd Christmas from the cult classic Dumb & Dumber, “that John Denver is full of it man.” I really couldn’t help myself but to insert that line and that movie into this review because Free Fire seemed to be almost begging me to throughout the entirety of it. Two quintessential John Denver songs play in critical sequences of Free Fire thus giving me the excuse to quote Lloyd Christmas because this is also a movie that does actually kind of, sort of correlate to the 1994 film due to the fact that all men may not be the smartest ones in the room – or an abandoned warehouse for this matter.
Writer and director Ben Wheatley sets this film in the mid to late 1970’s in Boston, Massachusetts and the premise is pretty simple, one group of people will buy guns from another group of people and nobody will get hurt. That obviously is not how this movie plays out and once things get going it is an all-out free for all. The one group that is attempting to purchase the weapons is Chris (Cillian Murphy), Frank (Michael Smiley), Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti). Along to assist from the other group’s side is Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer). Vernon (Sharlto Copley) leads the armed weapons selling group with his exotic English/South African accent that even Stevo and Bernie have no idea what the accent even is. This then seemed like what would be the tipping point of where almost every character that did have a heavy accent, each one could then play off of that and poke fun thus leading to the delectable, crude and witty insults that begin to ricochet off of one another.
As for when the insults and bullets are whizzing every which way, Wheatley is able to treat this abandoned warehouse as his own personal playground. He lets each one of his characters try to stumble, crawl and limp to safety while the audience can just sit back and indulge in all of the mayhem. While some of the violence and comedy pack some really great laugh out loud moments, there were a few instances where it seemed to get a tad stagnant and hit a couple short lulls amidst all the beefiness of the action but that never took away from how entertaining it really was as well as the actors in it.
Speaking of the actors in it, the most notable performances in my opinion was Armie Hammer as Ord and the new up and comer Jack Reynor (Sing Street, Grassland) as Harry. Ord is cool, calm and collective while being a total wise crack to just about everyone involved, Frank in particular. Harry is pretty much a misfit and goon that is there help on Vernon’s side of things but I probably busted out the biggest laughs to some of Reynor’s one liners and antics throughout.
Considering Brie Larson is the only female actress present in the film, her character Justine is there to serve a purpose that is fairly evident from the start. She seems to only be there to be an object to just about each of these male characters’ masculinity and therefore makes the ending feel less worthwhile and a more of an “I saw that coming from a mile away” moment. It’s a shame that Larson was underutilized in which a role that she could of brought a lot more to the table in order to serve her character as a stronger female presence on the screen.
Staying with the fact that there is quite the raunchy group of characters involved, there’s no investment whatsoever to any of them that when the fatality numbers start to pile up it doesn’t really matter and you just want to see who is going to be next. This is the kind of movie that doesn’t want you to try and overthink any elements or over analyze what is happening or what plot pieces could be missing. It may not be for everyone but what Wheatley wants is for you to just sit there and enjoy the ride that he’s taking you on.
A24 is the production studio behind Free Fire and has recently been on a tear lately with all of their Indie movie success stories and they don’t look like they are slowing down any time soon. They are letting directors make the movies they want with creative control which leads to all of these great actors starring in a film such as this. I won’t go ahead and spoil what the two John Denver songs are that lead me to quote Lloyd Christmas but what I will say is that Free Fire is one heck of a fun time at the theater that provides a lot of laughs and just more than a few bullets.