It’s very easy to have doubts going into a film like Free Fire. As portrayed in the trailers, it’s a film that chronicles a weapons deal gone wrong — and the resulting conflict is one long, extended firefight sequence between ten or so characters. It seems great in concept, but maybe for a short film. Could a full feature actually keep the attention of audiences for the duration of its runtime?
The answer is a definite yes, though it’s not a perfect experience.
Free Fire comes from the minds of Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley, and is also directed by the latter of the two. If you’re unfamiliar, Ben Wheatley is the man behind such films as Kill List and High-Rise, and his style tends to be dark, nihilistic, and violent. The same is true of Free Fire. If you’re a fan of dark humor and painful-looking violence, chances are you’ll find a lot to enjoy here.
The film’s premise is simple enough. There are two groups that are meeting — the arms dealers, and the arms buyers. The ensemble cast consist of top-tier like Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Noah Tyler, Jack Reynor, and more. In the midst of negotiations between these two groups, things begin to go awry, and the outcome is a bloody firefight in a giant warehouse. While the trailer shows this film as kind of a giant, ridiculous, action-packed romp, it’s actually a lot more meditative in its pacing than the marketing lets on.
The intro leading up to the firefight takes its time. It establishes the characters quickly so that we get a baseline understanding of their personalities, but the real interesting stuff is when both sides of the deal meet each other. Almost immediately, we get to see conflicting personality traits, and it becomes incredibly rewarding to see all these pieces pile up and ultimately culminate in the bloody shootout we’d come to see. During the first act, I was on pins and needles, waiting to see which of the hotheaded criminals would tip the first domino, and it certainly paid off.
The firefight itself was a bit of a mixed bag. First off, it’s important to note that there was obvious care here shown to the geography and overall progression of the shootout. It has ebbs and flows, and a three-act structure in and of itself. Additionally, the action and geography — while a bit confusing in the heat of the moment at times — is generally easy to follow, which is important in a flick that has 60 minutes or so of duck-and-cover action in an enclosed space. Also, the bullets look like they HURT. I know that seems like it would be a given, but often in films, it’s easy to brush off bullet injuries, but here, they hit with a literal bang, and before long, these characters are limping and crawling in agony, giving some real weight to all the damage they’re inflicting on one another.
However, there was one big problem I had with the film. Despite its short runtime (around 85 minutes or so), there were a few instances during that stretched out action sequence where I lost interest or zoned out. I believe a lot of that has to do with the lack of character development. While the film tries to give us the bare bones of each of the characters’ personalities early on, there simply isn’t enough there to latch onto in a meaningful way. As I watched the flick, I only knew the characters based on their actors or one memorable thing they did before the shootout began. While that’s usually enough to carry me through an action sequence or two, it does make it more difficult when the rest of the film’s runtime is dedicated to one long action scene.
That being said, it’s definitely not a dealbreaker, and if you’re a fan of dark, violent humor, there’s a good chance you’ll get exactly what you came here for. It goes without saying that this film isn’t for everyone. Those looking for a lighthearted popcorn flick may find this too dark for their taste, and those hoping for a breakneck pace may leave the theater a bit underwhelmed. However, if you’re looking for a semi-slow burn of a film with darkly quirky characters, and well thought out action scenes, this may be right up your alley.
Will you be seeing Free Fire this weekend? Let us know in the comments down below!