Friday, 17 March 2017

Review: Free Fire

Free Fire
Cert: 15 / 91 mins / Dir. Ben Wheatley / Trailer

While it's a long, long way from the heavy ordnance and monosyllabic adrenaline of the likes of The Expendables, the setup for Ben Wheatley's Free Fire is still reassuringly low-concept: an illicit gun-deal in an abandoned Boston (MA) factory between a couple of Irish buyers (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) and a South African seller (Sharlto Copley), brokered by a mutual contact (Brie Larson) and also attended by various henchmen on both sides. But when two of these subordinates recognise each other from an unresolved conflict, things quickly get out of hand. And when things get out of hand at a gun-deal, they're only heading one way...

As it goes, it's the second time in a week that I've watched Larson in a 70s-set flick featuring an overly-jukeboxed soundtrack. And the first of these didn't exactly leave a great taste in the mouth. Free Fire features a host of borderline-unlikeable, sketched in characters who remain barely developed for the most part, frequently mumbled and inaudible dialogue, a worryingly notable quantity of scripted 'quips' which left the audience silent though the subsequent laugh-gap, and a combination of lighting and editing that often makes it impossible to tell who's shooting at who (kind of the point of the film).

Also, I loved it.

The opposite side of the John Wick coin, the single gunfight makeing up the lion's share of the running time is the very antithesis of Hollywood Slick™. When bullets start flying, there are no trick-shots, gymnastics or one-hit kills. The shootout here is a long, drawn-out war of attrition with lucky hits and brute force doing most of the work and soundtracked (in this section where it matters*1) primarily by scuffling, breathless-complaining and fluent profanity. And that's not to say every line's a tightly engineered zinger (as I mentioned above), but it's certainly less of a sassy quote-fest and more representative of a deal between tired and angry middle-aged men, which began with poor organisation and went downhill from there.

From a writing point of view, it would have been very tempting to make at least one of the factions here the sort of loveable anti-heroes we've found in The Nice Guys. But writers Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump have kept in mind that these are people buying and selling guns, after all. The natural charisma of performers like Larson, Murphy, Smiley and Copley means they're inherently watchable without having the script cast too much judgement on them either way, and the humour veers between darkly-comic and violent-farce. Even that Armie Hammer's great fun in this, so the film's got to be doing a lot right*2.

Just what the doctor ordered after an emotionally taxing awards-season, Free Fire is a film that will bear re-watching because of the number of levels it works on. This is Ben Wheatley raising an eyebrow at the escalatingly ludicrous stream of action movies we enjoy, playing with the genre without being too acerbic at one end or getting too silly at the other. Nothing here is glamourised, but neither is it disparaged; the film takes its ridiculousness very seriously.

Because even if you examine the sandpit, you can still have a shit-ton of fun playing in it…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Inherent Vice, Hell or High Water, Reservoir Dogs.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
If the trailer looks like it your thing (and it's very much what the trailer's selling), absolutely yes.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
It does.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Probably not, but only because everyone involved has such strong previous form.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
I shouldn't imagine so.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: The new Dr. Evazan's in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 The main drag isn't completely music-free as there is some deftly inserted John Denver to be heard. But that's a set-piece in itself, so easily clears the Jukebox Soundtrack hurdle. [ BACK ]

*2 To be fair, that could just be because I enjoyed watching one of my favourite character-vacuums get shot at for about an hour. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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