Free Fire – or – How to Make Your Action Count
A firearm sale goes horribly awry when a fistfight breaks out between two gangs. Controlled chaos ensues.
8 people saw Free Fire while it played in theaters. I was 2 of them. And the film is a hoot if you are a fan of Guy Ritchie/Quentin Tarantino/general tough guy cinema. Characters were clear, motivations were clear, and it was just fun. Also, Sharlto Copley gives an A+ performance and proves he should be crazy more often.
But this movie is really one giant 90 minute shoot out.
There’s some build up and establishing of character but, once the shooting starts, it doesn’t stop until the final frames.
It keeps the fire fight to a single location and also projects a very realistic, yet incredibly funny depiction of gun violence. When a person gets shot, they don’t die immediately. Instead, they have to deal with the gun shot wound in real time.
Instead of a bloodless, PG-13 version of this film, writer/director Ben Wheatley makes each gun shot count. What sets Free Fire apart from a lot of other action movies is that it bothers to add consequences to the gun fire. It’s one thing to suffer the immediate death of a loved character. When you watch a beloved character get shot, then have to deal with getting shot, and fighting to stay alive? That’s another thing entirely.
The gun fight in Free Fire is also just another way to get characters to become even more raw. This giant set piece is used to get a wide swath of characters to be with each other. The cool guy criminals in so many crime movies come tumbling down as the gun fight goes on well passed when it should have ended. The action changes character motivations throughout; what starts off as a quick fight for revenge evolves into an existential gun fight borne out of desperation.
I’m eager to see more of Wheatley’s oeuvre. Wheatley applies a deft touch for character while maintaining action. Armie Hammer’s slowly devolving alpha male is so subtle and masterful, and that’s only one of the things that stands out. It’s an unbelievable cast that is so good, it makes me angry.
Honestly, this movie should have run thin very quickly, but Wheatley keeps the action purposeful. The movie does take breaths in gun fire, but the threat still looms while characters regroup and strategize on how to get out. The 90 minute run time is perfect, which lets this light and breezy genre exercise leave without wearing out its welcome.
If anything, I wish more films would deal with the direct repercussions of action scenes. Free Fire truly operates as an excellent genre exercise and, if the film was made in the 1970s (Free Fire is set in 1978), this may have been one of the absolute greats.