In the 1970s, the IRA needs weapons to fight the English. Chris (Cillian Murphy: Anthropoid) and Frank (Michael Smiley: Rogue One) are charged with procuring machine guns. Gun broker Justine (Brie Larson: Kong: Skull Island) makes arrangements with fellow broker Ord (Armie Hammer: Nocturnal Animals) to meet with notoriously odd gun dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley: Powers).
The Irish are willing to overlook Vernon’s quirks until one of his henchmen starts a fight. First fists and then bullets fly. Trapped in a warehouse where everyone is armed and hoping to be the last one standing, each criminal decides how to survive.
As the hours tick by, loyalties change, wounds increase and ways out diminish.
Free Fire is a gore-filled, funny shoot ’em up reminiscent of early Tarantino. It combines gleeful, violent slapstick, snappy performances and clever writing with substance. In this old-fashioned gunfight, you care who lives to tell the tale.
Director/co-writer Ben Wheatley (High Rise) makes the best of his small budget. Confining the action to one open space raises the tension while inviting you to explore. Each wide shot has several things going on, so you’ll have to choose where to focus your attention.
The best part of the film, however, is Wheatley’s peculiar sense of humor. It’s rare to laugh so much in a film that features so many gunshot wounds. The zany incompetence of criminals is mined for all it’s worth by Wheatley, who shows that owning a gun doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a good shot. As these excitable yahoos shoot at each other, winging some and missing others, fans will be reminded of over-the-top comedy in Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. Wheatley also has a great sense of timing. The film clocks in at a swift 90 minutes, meaning that plot and character are developed quickly and sparingly.
Wheatley also made the excellent decision to pack his film with excellent character actors. Copley is the clear standout as a boisterous, moronic and arrogant gun dealer hilariously incompetent at just about everything. Hammer is also impressive, delivering deadpan lines as bullets zing by him with so much charm you almost forget he’s trying to kill people.
In spite of its charms, Free Fire isn’t a bullseye. Some characters could have been cut or refined to streamline the storytelling a bit. Wheatley is also a little too pleased with his quick cut style, which can sometimes confuse the action. But in spite of a few dramatic snags, this film kept the audience at my screening in stitches as the bullets flew.
Good Action • R • 90 mins.