Cult director co/writer Ben Wheatley and his co/writer (and spouse) Amy Jump are the brains behind 2016’s Free Fire, a dark comedy/action film that features a very impressive cast… and a sadly underdeveloped story.
I’m going to be blunt here: I was hoping for much more in this film than what I got.
The story goes like this: Back in 1978 (why set the film in this year? Easy, because it was before the advent of cell phones. If the film were set in the present and cell phones existed, this story would be done very quickly) a group of individuals get together in an abandoned factory for a gun sale. Things go sideways quick and the various members of the cast are soon engaged in an extended gunfight which plays out for perhaps 3/4ths of the film.
I’ll get into SPOILERS in a moment but here are the things I liked about the film:
Armie Hammer, an actor whose appearances I’ve found not all that memorable (my general experience is, and I don’t claim to have seen all his various roles, he’s been cast too many times as the big, quiet -and boring- type), is quite good as the somewhat arrogant, pot smoking intermediary who gives off vibes of being quite dangerous beneath it all. But is he?
Sharlto Copley is an actor who can be somewhat… overwhelming… at times but here his arrogance and silliness serve him well.
Cillian Murphy, another actor with a very long list of roles, is obstensibly the hero of the piece, an IRA man who is interested in purchasing weapons and who has an eye for…
Brie Larson, Oscar winning actress plays a woman of mystery here, an intermediary for the IRA fellows who gets caught in the resulting crossfire. Or does she?
These are the four roles I found most intriguing in this film but, truthfully, just about everyone is good -or, more properly, bad– in their individual roles but the biggest problem this feature has is that after everything is set up, there just isn’t all that much of a second act. The characters attack and counterattack and after a while it feels repetitious and we’re dealing with diminishing returns.
Based on that, I can’t recommend Free Fire. If you’re curious, here’s the movie’s trailer and, afterwards, I’m going to get into a more SPOILERY focus on one of the film’s elements leading to its conclusion…
As mentioned, we’re now going to get into…
Still here? You’ve been warned!
As a writer, I’m always interested in all things story and Free Fire was no exception.
If there was something that kept me going on with it, even after feeling the film was running out of steam, was where it was going. The fact is that while I ultimately can’t recommend the film, I could see that the people behind it were certainly trying to do something interesting.
The film isn’t “just” a silly shoot out. It’s an attempt at making a black comedy with the action elements. Sadly, in the end there wasn’t enough “there” there for me to like it, but I was still intrigued as to where it was going.
Which is where, from a writer’s standpoint, the film somewhat misfired because the movie’s conclusion was set up only minutes from the movie’s actual conclusion.
Let me explain: I kinda knew the film would feature the slow deaths of the many characters within it. I wondered who would survive to the end and, when we got to the “last three”, two of the characters got together and one of them states something to the effect of: “Let’s go, the police will be here in fifteen minutes”.
Then, the final of the three characters emerges, takes out the other two, and tries to get away with the money intended to pay for the guns. However, as this person is heading to the exit, the lights from police cars is seen pouring from under the door of the factory. The final survivor is caught.
Allow me to humbly point out: THIS IS STUPID.
Why, suddenly, are the police an issue… other than to provide closure to the film?
Free Fire starts with the various characters going into the abandoned factory and, because this is a gun purchase, they have to check the merchandise. Therefore, before any monies are exchanged, the buyer gets to try out one of the weapons he’s interested in buying.
I assumed at that point in the film they chose this abandoned factory for the purchase because any gunfire -specifically the gunfire from the buyer examining the merchandise- would be muffled and therefore the police would not be called to the area.
What the movie needed was AT THIS POINT IN TIME to explain the situation with the police.
Have one of the characters say: “Look, take your shots quick. We’re pretty muffled for sound here but you never know if someone out there might hear them and call the cops.”
With that single line and, even more importantly, at that point in time, the film’s makers don’t have to put the awkward bit of dialogue at the tail end of the film -and moments before its actual ending- to clue us in on how the film will end. Instead of the character suddenly pointing out the police will be there in 15 minutes, this same character would then say something to the effect of: “We really need to go. This place muffles plenty of sound but with this much gunfire someone out there must have heard something. It would be a miracle if the cops weren’t on their way right now.”
I know, I know. A silly little peeve but its there, nonetheless, for me.
Now that I’ve mentioned this writerly peeve, let me give the film some love: I really like how they subtly laid down information regarding Brie Larson’s character. There are at least two bits of dialogue, both given by her and one of which is included in the above trailer, that hint to what she’s all about.
I enjoyed that!