Think of your favorite action sequence in a film. What comes to mind? For me personally, it’s pictures like True Grit, Die Hard, Smokin’ Aces, Django Unchained, Deadpool; these all have a common denominator — gun fights with precise choreography akin to that of a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance number.
This movie does not share that factor. Possessing a beauty all its own, Free Fire is about a bunch of dimwits, a handful of marksmen, too many guns, and a briefcase full of money; an 80-minute shootout stemming from an arms deal gone dreadfully, enormously cockeyed.
Free Fire has one of the most accurate taglines I’ve ever seen; All Guns. No Control. Let me give you a quick rundown on how this goes:
Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) — a couple of Beantown reprobates — are en route to meet a pair of IRA affiliates. Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) — along with their saucy arbitrator, Justine (Brie Larson) — await the duo outside of a dilapidated warehouse to purchase some firearms.
Once everyone has arrived, Ord (Armie Hammer) — an agent in attendance on behalf of the guy who represents the goods — conducts a quick wire search and leads the group inside.
Waiting there is the unctuous dealer presenting the wares, Vernon (Sharlto Copley), as well as his confederates, Harry, Martin, and Gordon (Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, and Noah Taylor, respectively).
Now that we’ve taken roll, let’s get down to the meat and potatoes.
While Martin counts up the clams in the case to make sure it’s all there, Vern plays show and tell only to find that he doesn’t have what Chris asked for. Discovering that he’s brought the wrong weapons, tensions flare. Meanwhile, Stevo — who’s rockin’ a shiner from a bar fight — recognizes one of Vern’s goons as the bloke who popped him. The decidedly shaky foundation on which this meeting once stood is swiftly obliterated and we’ve got first blood in the maelstrom.
Crawling around in a grabbag of glass, dirt, and probably asbestos, the group finds common ground in that everyone has the same goal: don’t get shot. Also, get the money.
Enter players eleven and twelve. One of these dirty dogs brought in a couple of ringers who are hiding in the shadows with sniper rifles. Whom is the question, and any remaining trust is out the window.
When the peal of a telephone comes out of nowhere, the race is on to call in reinforcements, but who’ll reach it first?
Free Fire seems implausible in concept alone. The premise could easily get sticky after awhile. Fortunately, Writer/Director/Editor Ben Wheatley and Writer/Editor Amy Jump — the minds behind High-Rise and Sightseers — found a brilliant workaround. They curated a formula that keeps things fresh and always moving forward at a pace that the audience can get excited about again and again.
This movie works on so many levels. The cast is superb; not a weak link in the bunch. Wheatley and Jump have accomplished something sublime in the brutality to satire equation. In the same vein as a horror movie that is also a comedy, there’s a balancing act that — if not executed perfectly — can leave the audience feeling jilted. The same principle applies here in that, if not done properly, the gore can overpower the relief and the viewer might abandon ship.
Free Fire accomplishes this feat effortlessly. The script — some of it seeming and probably being improvised — is biting and clever. A dry delivery to many of the film’s impeccably placed jokes elicits delicious solace when we need it most. As a sweet little cherry on top, Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury have concocted a score that fits like a glove. Undulating between a sexy spy movie vibe and an anxiety-riddled, toe-tapping sound, this unique brew brings it all home.
Free Fire offers the pleasure received from pain. It categorically owns the one thing that all movies covet: watchability. If you’re looking for an unquestionably satisfying theater-going experience, this is the film to see. One of the best of the year so far and one of the funniest I’ve seen in ages. “Watch and Vern.”