I had been expecting to see Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire for almost a full year. Not only does it have a stellar cast (Brie Larson’s unstoppable growth into a well-rounded and fantastic actress is one worth watching, not to mention the comeback of the creepiest of all, Cillian Murphy), it also has the badge of quality from A24, the company behind Moonlight, who have by now established themselves as backers of films worth watching. Needless to say, expectations were pretty high up. Free Fire is hilarious, it’s fast, it’s violent, and it’s witty. But it’s not much else.
The film follows two gangs in 1978 Boston who meet in a deserted warehouse for a rifle sale. After Harry (Jack Reynor) recognizes that Stevo (Sam Riley), a guy from the opposing gang, had sexually assaulted his cousin, one thing leads to the next and an hour-long shootout ensues, where any form of trust among the characters turns to dust. What follows is a sensory overload for the viewer that includes an approximate 2,000 missed shots, 500 witty punchlines, and humorously clever (though at times dizzying) editing. With Scorsese’s stamp as executive producer, of course one cannot expect anything to go too well for these characters.
What Ben Wheatley has in mind is clear. He wants to depict the absurdity of guns, especially when used by a group of idiotic criminals. Most of all, however, he wants the audience to have fun. Entrapping the overly entertaining main characters in a dimly lit, claustrophobic space, Wheatley depicts funny interactions and an obscene amount of gunshots without caring to delve deeper into anything the film could touch upon, such as questions of gun ownership, trust, or hyper-masculinity. Clearly an aesthetically and action-driven film, the caricature characters’ struggle for survival makes for a great test of the viewers’ apprehension. Nothing goes as expected and twist after twist leads up to a somehow satisfying finale. The dialogue is arguably the best part of it all and the cinematography does not lag in any respect, adding a dark and almost pessimistic vibe to an overall jokey action.
What Free Fire mostly does is keep a perfect balance between silences and shoot-outs, where you can get to observe the details in everyone’s movements, which consistently hint at something new about them, before the next mayhem begins; you are kept at the edge of your seat and feel like you can’t look away. In the end, you probably have not retained any of the characters’ names, but you definitely remember all their special oddities. Given the experimental nature of the film, every viewer’s experience is bound to be what they make of it. Wheatley said he submitted the film to Cannes, but to no avail – clearly, such a film is not exactly the festival type.
If you choose to see Free Fire looking for a plot-driven drama, you are sure to be disappointed. If you are looking to laugh and be entertained, you’re surely in for a treat. It’s not Reservoir Dogs, to which it’s often been compared to, but at the end of the day, it certainly does not care.