Starring Brie Larson. Rated 14A
U.K. director Ben Wheatley has never met a genre he couldn't mangle to his own perverse and mostly satisfying ends. This is the filmmaker’s bluntest crowdpleaser yet, being no more than a 90-minute shootout between a group of exaggerated '70s stereotypes.
Brie Larson gets top-billing as Justine, who brokers a tense deal in an abandoned Boston warehouse between a couple of IRA operatives, Chris and Frank (Cillian Murphy and Wheatley regular Michael Smiley), and the weapons dealer and “international asshole” Vernon (Sharlto Copley, who gives his preposterous would-be tough guy just enough comic shading to nearly steal the film.)
Also along for the firefight, which we see coming within the film’s first 20 seconds, is Vernon’s disturbingly unkillable partner Martin (Babou Ceesay), a too-smooth liaison called Ord (Armie Hammer, also hilarious), and a pair of grunts on either side of the deal who, it turns out, have some unrelated business to settle from a bar fight the night before. Which is why the guns start blazing.
Probably because they thought they should, Wheatley and his screenwriting partner Amy Jump fire off a few brazen rounds of plot once each of these characters is bunkered down and bleeding out in their own grimy corner of the warehouse (for instance, those snipers in the rafters that somebody apparently invited). But Free Fire really exists to let this outstanding cast have a riot with the film’s flip nihilism (“I think we can all agree that he’s gone to a better place,” announces a bizarrely hale Ord, when one guy seems to take a final slug).
As a reductio ad absurdum picture of gun violence, this film might have even less of a soul than Reservoir Dogs. And yet—further aided by a faux-King Crimson score by Ben Salisbury and Portishead’s Geoff Barrow—Free Fire feels wonderfully, gleefully alive. It offers not a shred of pretence toward meaning (guns are bad, I guess?) and it does fuck all with the potentially fertile notion that we’re watching arms dealers go to war with their clients. But that's okay. Maybe Free Fire is just about having seriously shitty aim?