Two teams of mobsters meet up for a simple deal, money in exchange for weapons, but a small feud between two hot heads spiral out of control creating an hour- long shootout in Ben Wheatley’s thriller comedy, Free Fire. What separates this film from other gangster movies involving shootouts is that this standoff in particular isn’t saved for the last showdown of the movie; it is the movie. Making fantastic use of its singular setting - an abandoned warehouse in the middle of somewhere - the film’s scenery never feels stale. Most of the flick consists of our two gangs, hiding behind cover, on opposite sides of an open space. Though the film succeeds in making a single shootout last an entire movie, it never quite hits the same emotional highs as some of the earned final standoffs in other films.
As much as this film has the “bang bangs” or the “boom booms” of other action movies, what sets it apart is our colorful cast of characters. The fight started between Sam Riley and Jack Reynor is our inciting incident for the shootout, and their banter between gunshots across the room from one another is hysterical. As the shootout devolves into betrayals and team changes, that’s where other characters like Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer really shine. Other performances feel flat, specifically Cillian Murphy, whose character is almost too much of the archetypal “grumpy gangster who’s not all that bad of a guy.”
The gunplay and action of this movie feel great but also distinctly different from other films that have come out this year. None of these characters are John Wick, no one is scoring perfect head-shots or laying waist to hundreds of drone like opponents. Every gunshot in the flick feels loud and realistic, and every shot landed is against a major member of our ensemble cast. The way the cinematography weaves in and out of characters crawling on the ground from cover to cover feels more like a World War II movie than anything else. What helps prolong the shootout is that our cast doesn’t get killed off right away, but almost everyone is wounded. Shots are being fired wildly, but for every five bullets shot only one usually hits, leaving a character clipped in the shoulder but still in action. By the time we get to the end of the flick, everyone is wounded and running out of time making the audience feel their fatigue.
Though we have group of over ten, distinct characters, no one feels fleshed out enough to care for. Once the deal between the gangs goes sour, the singular goal of the movie becomes survival. No character on either side is a “good guy,” so it leaves the audience with no one to root for. No one really has a fleshed out back story, so when we eventually start seeing some (SPOILER ALERT) death, there’s really no reason to care. There are characters whom I mentioned before are funny, but no one is likable. The movie merely feels like a vessel for banter and gunshots, though that can be a good time, it left me feeling empty by the end of the flick. This movie didn’t have the same weight of say our final moments of Reservoir Dogs, where there is an inherent build up, leaving us at the edge of our seats to see what’s going to happen and who’s going to make it. This movie is that moment stretched out so thin that I just don’t really care.
Free Fire is a film that asks a very interesting structural question: “What if an entire film was the shootout.” Though I’m afraid the answer to that question is a movie that can be a lot of fun, but ultimately feels flat by the end. I’m not saying don’t see Free Fire, I just don’t think you need to rush out to the theater to see it.
Robert has a degree in Screenwriting and Playwriting and works in multiple genres. He's just your typical man-child who enjoys most things nerd culture. You can follow him on Twitter @RoBaeBae