It’s 1978. The setting is an abandoned warehouse in an American city—who cares which one. Arms dealers, IRA members, and their brokers have met to sell some guns, but the whole thing goes tits up and everyone shoots at each other for an hour. This is Free Fire, director Ben Wheatly’s latest project.
For those who haven’t seen the film, that may sound like an oversimplification of the plot, but it’s really not. That’s entire story of the movie, and stories don’t come much simpler than this one. It’s not that the story is bad per se, but clever plotting, depth, character development: the film has none of those elements. It does, however, manage to stretch out its thin story like an elastic that doesn’t snap, and it’s actually a damn good movie.
That being said, the film really does milk its plot for all it’s worth. And even at a very modest 92-minute running length, it feels like there were a couple of scenes that could have been removed or tightened up to the movie’s benefit. Despite this, however, there are no points of fatigue that will have viewers checking their watches; the movie’s momentum carries all the way through to the last frame (and it ends brilliantly). Plus, the atomicity of the plot and the stakes is somewhat refreshing.
Most importantly, the film is funny—not the kind of funny where the audience has a slight occasional chuckle, but a genuine laugh-out-loud kind of funny. The dialogue is excellent, razor-sharp and highly quotable, so quotable in fact, that the movie might merit a second viewing in order to pick out the best one-liners. The violence is so over-the-top that it’s amusing (in a good way), and there’s a sense of ridiculousness that runs through the veins of the film which makes it endearing, even charming.
Much of this charm comes from the characters, who, though not exactly fleshed out, are undeniably entertaining. The ensemble cast—all dressed with bad haircuts and even worse outfits to remind the audience of the film’s time period—perform admirably. Standouts include Armie Hammer, who delivers pitch-perfect deadpan humour, and Sharlto Copley, who sinks into a quirky, offbeat character with consistently hilarious results. Even Brie Larson, who gave a terribly wooden performance in Kong: Skull Island earlier this year, is great; there’s no weak link in the cast.
There are a couple of points in the film that detract from the whole, though they aren’t major. Although part of the movie’s comedic levity comes from the fact that the characters are a bunch of terrible people making terrible choices, and they could end (or altogether have avoided their predicament) by just being level-headed, some characters make some really stupid choices, and what they’re doing isn’t always clear. Also, in a few moments, the chaotic gun violence gets a hair too busy, to the point where the viewer loses track of who is shooting what at whom. Overall, though, Wheatley keeps things pretty clean.
Though it doesn’t offer anything much in the way of depth and substance, Free Fire knows exactly what kind of movie it wants to be. Fortunately for audiences, the film’s aim is much better than that of its characters; it hits its mark with hilarious satisfaction.
(Feature image: Film4 Productions and A24)