Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire was made over a year ago but did not get a release in America until April of this year. Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump last scrapped the bottom of the barrel with 2015’s High Rise about a group of tenants who go berzerk when the power in their high rise goes out. It was a truly reprehensible film and one of the worst of 2015. It was basically a bunch of loathsome individuals who resort to cruel depravity when they think their world is ending. It was horrendous. Free Fire features some of the same kind of low lives that were found in High Rise, but Free Fire is a slightly better film. But that is a low bar to break.
Taking place in an abandoned Boston warehouse (actually this was filmed entirely in England, but whatever) in 1978, it tells the story of warring gangs after a gun deal goes awry. The place erupts into a shootout in which everyone gets hit at some point even the sole lady, Justine (Brie Larson). What Justine is doing there is anyone’s guess. She just does not seem to be the kind of girl who would be tangled up with people like this. She says she was in it for the quick buck, but there are so many characters you wonder when and where she would get her share of the money.
When all of the gangs first arrive, we meet all of the players. Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Babou Ceesay, Jack Reynor and Noah Taylor all make up members of one gang or the other. But worry not, once the shooting starts you won’t keep up with who is in whose gang, anyway. To make matters worse, two more shooters show up later in the film. One is played by Patrick Bergen and the other is played by Mark Monero, but again don’t worry about them they make no difference to the story. Why they are even in the film is a mystery since the film is already chock full of characters, anyway.
At this point, Free Fire had me interested. There is some colorful dialogue, a clever reference to John Denver and some decent action. It was here the film starts to become a one-note film. With everyone confined to this one building not much else happens and I grew bored after about forty minutes. There is still another forty minutes or so of the film. With everyone wounded and crouched behind a structure for protection, Wheatley and Jump’s script does not venture any further with these characters so the film grinds to a halt. The action becomes meaningless and tired and any momentum the film has generated is lost.
The acting is sufficient and everyone is putting forth the effort but they don’t seem to develop into anyone I cared about. I also wondered with this many shots being fired why it is taking the police so long to respond, but oh well. I guess if you had to pinpoint the characters that stand out it would be Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Sam Riley, Cillian Murphy and Brie Larson. These are all interesting characters but no one is ever developed past a thug with a gun. I kept waiting for a double cross but that never comes, either.
There is not much that happens past the first act of Free Fire and that is too bad. This is the kind of B-title film that could be something special but ends up wearing out its welcome. Brie Larson is always watchable and does not disappoint in Free Fire, but I could not help thinking that her character seems a bit out of place, here. It is almost as if her character was an afterthought. But Wheatley manages to salvage some of the pacing of Free Fire so it is not an entire loss, however. Overall, this film is a missed opportunity. When comparing it to High Rise, however, Free Fire is a silver nickel above that piece.
Free Fire – **1/2 out of five
Free Fire – Rated R for graphic violence, language, gore and drug use
Free Fire – Run Time is 90 minutes
Free Fire is now available on DVD, On Demand and subscription services.