Let’s look at the poster for Free Fire, shall we?
First off, the tagline “All Guns, No Control” feels like it was tossed off in the first marketing meeting for Bowling for Columbine, only to dusted off in a moment of ah-fuck-it by whoever picked up the rights to this one. Secondly, the poster looks like something released direct-to-VHS two years after Reservoir Dogs, getting a quickie re-release after Brie Larson’s (well-deserved) Oscar win. After Tarantino made it looks easy to make an engrossing crime flick in almost a single location, a flood of imitators came out, and Free Fire is a twenty-year late entry into the genre of lazy Tarantino ripoffs. Unlike more forgivable entries in this storied genre, Free Fire has a well-known team behind the camera (Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley) and a reasonably well-reputed cast. But instead of being the fun lark its Rotten Tomatoes rating would suggest, Free Fire is an example of why great writing exercises don’t always make for great movies. Or even good ones.
Aside from twenty-odd minutes of table setting, Free Fire takes place entirely within a single location, within a single firefight. A deal goes bad between a American/South African arms dealers and IRA rebels, all decked out with the appropriate ’70s attire, leading to both sides hiding behind warehouse crates and scrambling to get their hands on the briefcase of money in between them. The setup is simple, and could have been a lot of fun if the characters were fun to watch. Unfortunately, they’re shit. The characters that don’t go full ham are essentially non-entities, and the often great lead actors (the aforementioned Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer) and usually memorable character actors (Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor) never get enough individual focus to make them pop in any way nor provide even a baseline of character motivation. As for the characters who get some personality, they’re uniformly irritating, especially Sam Riley’s Irish junkie Stevo, but more especially Jack Reynor’s hotheaded asshole Harry, but MOST especially Sharlto Copley’s idiotic arms dealer Vern. The movie could devolve into a bit of slasher-esque scorekeeping, where you could keep a bit of a fun betting pool going as for who’ll make it alive, but none of the characters make enough of an impression to be worth rooting for, and Wheatley and Jump seem interested in giving the absolute worst of the lot the most screentime.
What may catch many off guard is how quickly things turn to shit once they turn to shit in Free Fire. Pretty quickly, every character has at least one wound on them, resulting in a whole lot of immobility and people crawling at each other. Free Fire could have said something about the futility of violence here, or at least injected some colorful dialogue to make it a bit of fun to watch, but instead it tells the same joke over and over: ohh Stevo/Harry/who cares got shot again, looks like it hurt eh? Even at only 85 minutes long, that joke gets old.
Free Fire (2017)
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Starring Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, and Sharlto Copley
Rotten Tomatoes (79%)