Walking in to see Free Fire, all signs pointed to this being a movie that I could really sink my teeth into. It features a loaded cast, a 70s setting, the promise of copious amounts of gunplay, and the mind of Ben Wheatley. Say what you will about Wheatley’s cinematic output (and certainly there is a ton to be said) but it is always interesting. Unfortunately, Free Fire is Wheatley’s thinnest film yet.
The reasons that Free Fire works so well as a trailer are inevitably what hampers it as a feature.
I suppose I set myself up for a failure on this one. When I first got started writing about film, I had a critic much smarter than myself tell me flat out, “don’t watch trailers.” For the longest time, I stuck to that mandate. If I knew that I would potentially review a film, I fled from trailers. Even when it came to big budget outings that would assuredly not offer any kind of press screening that I could attend (looking at you Star Wars) I kept myself to the rule. But lately, I’ve been slipping and indulging in that act that results in nothing but expectations that will likely never be met. And boy, did I love that Free Fire trailer.
The reasons that Free Fire works so well as a trailer are inevitably what hampers it as a feature. The trailer is punchy, populated with gunshots, and interspersed with spots of comedy. It is intriguing, exciting, and tells you almost nothing about the film. As far as trailers go, that’s exactly what a viewer should be looking for, enough to get pumped but no spoilers. The problem with Free Fire is that it just doesn’t have much more going on in outside of what you see in the trailer.
The story within Free Fire isn’t the first, second, or even third thing on the filmmaker’s mind. The film opens with spots of exposition to explain just why this collection of criminals is brought together. But Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump know exactly why we’ve come and quickly dump any kind of semblance of reasoning for unmitigated and nonstop gunfire. The first shot is fired well before the audience has developed any kind of feelings for any character and the chaos that follows doesn’t exactly leave the door open for that kind of development.
Instead, you get an hour of gunshots, crawling around, and bleeding. Wheatley shoots (I’m so sorry) the gunplay in a way that is hectic yet completely coherent. The style gives the interactions a sense of mayhem that helps to ramp up the tension. But after a while, it just stops building. We effectively hit our ceiling and the constant gunshots stop being an enticement and seem almost mundane. Do they expect us to care about these characters? We barely know them!
Despite the bevy of great things about Free Fire, it struggles to feel like a complete film.
The most frustrating part, is that there are so many great pieces in place. The cast alone more than delivers on their responsibilities. Sharlto Copley devours the scenery, getting to ham it up in a way that he seems to enjoy as much as the audience. Jack Reynor, as he did in Sing Street, shows that he is flat out delightful and deserving of more substantial roles (I also can’t help but hope that he does some kind of flick where he gets to play Seth Rogen’s dreamy brother. I can’t be the only one that sees the resemblance). Then there is Armie Hammer, who I have never understood the appeal of until this movie. He has the charm that his handsome exterior implies with comedy chops that make his dick of a character likable.
And that’s just the cast, there is plenty more to like in the film, including sound editing and design that is absolutely fantastic when you consider how much of a bear it must have been to put together. This whole movie takes place in a large abandoned warehouse and outside of the persistent banging clang of gunfire, the sound is able to deliver a perspective as to where people end up scattered. It’s impressive in its unobtrusive nature.
Despite the bevy of great things about Free Fire, it struggles to feel like a complete film. The reveals that inevitably come about spill out like afterthoughts, as if for the first-time Wheatley was concerned that audiences wouldn’t understand why things happened. Free Fire has the bones of a mindless actioner but the self-confidence of something more intelligent. Unfortunately, that is a whole lot of misplaced confidence.
Free Fire has the bones of a mindless actioner but the self-confidence of something more intelligent. Unfortunately, that is a whole lot of misplaced confidence.