From the outset we just know the contention in the action-crime thriller Free Fire is one set to explode and it will inevitably end badly.
Suspicion, ego and, above all, greed stand in the way of a cadre of crims in Massachusetts in the late ‘70s. That they are on opposing sides is almost of no consequence because, when you get down to it, each of them is in this to milk as much as they can for themselves. The exchange is meant to be straightforward, but, of course, it turns out to be anything but.
Justine (Brie Larson) has brokered a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) and a gang led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer). The latter are meant to be selling the former a stash of guns (30 plus ammo) for a suitcase full of cash, but when shots are fired in the handover, survival is on the line.
Co-writer and director Ben Wheatley (High-Rise) grew up watching Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch) movies and the influence is on screen for all to see. Free Fire was shot over six weeks in an empty warehouse that was dressed up to appear derelict and dangerous. Even with fake debris scattered everywhere, it still meant the actors had to spend weeks crawling around in the mess.
I found Free Fire sheer torture to sit through. Basically, you have enough material here for one long scene and little more – certainly not a full length feature. After all, you can only draw so much from shady men and one woman behaving badly. In essence, this is one elongated gun fight … and when I say elongated, I do mean ELONGATED. If you catch the start, then go out for a meal and return for the end, you won’t have missed much.
It becomes a case of the walking or crawling wounded. Really, the only question that remains to be answered is whether anyone will actually manage to extricate themselves from this cesspool still breathing. Importantly, the filmmakers seem to have bypassed one of the golden rules of filmmaking, namely the need for us – the audience – to have skin in the game. We need to build an affinity for at least one of the characters. We need to care, at least a little. Plainly, in this case we don’t.
Director Wheatley has managed to string this out in every way possible, but the short and long of it is that the script didn’t have enough in it to sustain interest. Case closed. Don’t see it. Rated MA, Free Fire scores a 3 out of 10.
Director: Ben Wheatley
Cast: Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer
Release Date: 27 April 2017
Rating: MA 15 +
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television