Free Fire

Release: Friday, April 21, 2017


Written by: Amy Jump; Ben Wheatley

Directed by: Ben Wheatley

Free Fire is 85 minutes of pure farce, and it’s kind of awesome. It’s also great news for those who have been wondering if they would ever see a pre-Madonna Guy Ritchie film again. Of course, this isn’t his film; he’s off doing that King Arthur flick with Jude Law or whatever. While it’s onwards and upwards for him, it’s hard not to look at something like Free Fire and wonder what might have been had he ever taken his particular brand of foul-mouthed farcical crime comedy to the American shore.

Cowritten by fellow Brit Ben Wheatley and his wife Amy Jump, Free Fire may not be as nuanced or as shamelessly vulgar as Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels or Snatch but the schadenfreude is uncanny. As is the element of criminal ineptitude, here demonstrated by the majority as two gangs converge in an abandoned Boston warehouse to negotiate an illegal arms deal circa the late ’70s, only to have it go hopelessly (and hilariously) awry.

Brie Larson’s Justine and Armie Hammer’s mutton-chopped Ord are here to broker the exchange of M-16s (not AR-70s) between the IRA, led by Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), and a gun runner from South Africa named Vernon, played gleefully over-the-top by Sharlto Copley. Each party leader comes flanked by their associates, each of varying degrees of unscrupulous — the IRA have Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley), while Vernon’s muscle comes in the form of Martin (Babou Ceesay), Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor).

That’s a lot of bad dudes to keep track of, even in these limited confines. And Free Fire knows it, sparing 15 minutes in the beginning to clue you in just enough as to what actor is playing which character and dropping enough hints to lead you to assume nothing good can come of their being together in the same room for any amount of time. That’s so Ritchie.

But perhaps more importantly Wheatley establishes tonality in these early moments. A particularly stand-offish Frank is cheesed off that their back-up haven’t been punctual. Meanwhile Armie Hammer is a calming presence, seemingly insult-proof. It must be those ridiculous sideburns. This inauspicious start merely serves as the primer for the particularly intense acrimony shared between the slimy Stevo and the hippie-looking Harry. After the former’s indiscretion from the other night is revealed, what little professional courtesy there has been goes out the window and bullets start flying.

For a film whose plot is literally “get the money, get the guns and get out,” it’s impressive how Wheatley manufactures this much entertainment out of that which verges on tedium. Even as the movie comes literally to a crawl around the half-hour mark, it only gets more interesting. Performances are generally caustic — Larson is certainly an interesting choice here, and I’m not sure she works entirely — but they’re more effective physically as the entire ensemble, when not punching each other in the face with their hurtful words, spend their remaining time alive crawling around on the ground looking all shitty.

Imperfect by design, Free Fire offers dark escapist thrills aplenty and unapologetically.

Recommendation: Free Fire is quite different than Ben Wheatley’s previous offerings. It’s more accessible, to a certain extent. If you subscribe to the notion that Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels is awesome, this is  going to offer a lot more to enjoy. It’s undeniably slight and verges on being pointless, but who needs Shakespeare when you have Sharlto Copley shouting obscenities in a South African twang whilst on fire? 

Rated: R

Running Time: 85 mins.

Quoted: “Ugh, men.” 

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17 thoughts on “Free Fire

  1. Pingback: The Marvelous Brie Larson — #6 | Thomas J

  2. Didn’t love this as much as you did, but, a fun little diversion. I think that Copley and Hammer did it for me to recommend, wouldn’t mind seeing these two team up again in some fashion.


    • ‘Fun’ is an interesting word when applied to Ben Wheatley films. I don’t know if I have ever had fun with his movies, but they’re . . . . interesting. Free Fire is the most accessible thing he’s yet done. I hope it doesn’t signal a potential to sell-out like the other director I referenced in this review. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Now I love Wheatley’s films but heard average things about this. The trailer sold it for me but I’ll probably wait for it to arrive via streaming. Great review my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I really enjoyed it. Deducted a few more points after in the end as it’s not really an original. It’s not like a Ben Wheatley film, save maybe for the really dark humor!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Month in Review: April ’17 | Thomas J

    • I can only imagine a crowd would elevate the experience. I wonder how many people saw it the day I did. In total I’d bet it was less than a crowd.


  5. It’s too bad that so few are paying to see this one because I found it hilarious! I hadn’t enjoyed High Rise so wasn’t expecting a lot, but regardless of my expectations going in I would have been happy coming out of this one. It’s just too funny.

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    • It’s way more accessible than High Rise and I really thought it was reminiscent of early Guy Ritchie, which was great. A fun movie for sure.


    • He’s a unique British voice for sure. This one feels a little more mainstream, if only just. It’s still got that signature snark, and it’s plenty dark. But way more accessible than say, A Field in England. Hope you enjoy it Ryan.


      • A Field in England is definitely his most “out there” that’s for sure. Kill List is probably my favorite film of his (so far), but I have high hopes for this one!

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  6. Had a lot of fun with this. They were only three of us in the 11 AM screening. Woeful marketing, that’s for sure. Maybe the only good thing will be a quick release to the consumer market, and I’ll certainly snatch up a copy. This one is going to have legs down the line with its dialogue and character arcs.


    • It really was a good time! And that’s telling too, because my dad and I were the only ones in our 9pm screening. Makes for a cool private screening, but that is exactly why theaters around me don’t play this stuff often. They sadly just do not sell.

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