Review: Free Fire

Set in Boston in the late 70s, the film concerns a bunch of undesirable characters meeting in a warehouse for an arms deal. Cillian Murphy is an IRA man, Michael Smiley is his right-hand man, and Sharlto Copley is the highly irritable South African arms dealer Vernon, who comes along with associates played by Jack Reynor and Babou Ceesay. Sam Riley is Smiley’s junkie nephew who may just fuck the whole thing up because of a bad connection with Reynor, having met the night before when Riley apparently smashed a bottle over the noggin of Reynor’s cousin’s head. Reynor socked Riley in the face, but it still pissed about the whole thing. Also on hand at the warehouse are Americans Brie Larson and the immaculately tailored Armie Hammer, who are basically the middle-men in the deal. The situation is already tense enough between Reynor and Riley, and Copley was born irritating, and it’s not long before guns are fired. Things get even worse when both sides of the arms deal are targeted by unseen assailants somewhere in the warehouse (Noah Taylor and Patrick Bergin among them).

I’ve not been remotely a fan of the previous films from director Ben Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump (The unbearably ugly literary adaptation “High-Rise”, the dreary “Wicker Man”-wannabe “Kill List”), but they’re on slightly surer ground with this 2017 throwback to the era of 90s “Reservoir Dogs” rip-offs (with a fairly large helping of Guy Ritchie, too). Basically this is a whole lot of talking and a whole lot of shooting, and not a whole lot of anything else. For the simplistic form of entertainment that it is, the cast almost made it work for me. I can understand why a lot of people will hate this (just as the few who saw the likes of the mid-to-late 90s rip-offs “Mean Guns” and “Mad Dog Time” hated those as well, I imagine), as it’s very thin stuff. I think it’s at least watchable, which is more than I can say for Wheatley’s previous efforts. Featuring CCR’s best song ‘Run Through the Jungle’ on the soundtrack doesn’t hurt, either.

Early on Cillian Murphy impresses in ice-cool fashion setting up a date with Brie Larson in the middle of a tenuous arms deal like it’s nothing. The prickly nature of many of the characters adds a lot of humour here, with snazzy-dresser Armie Hammer and highly irritable Sharlto Copley in particular standing out. Copley in my opinion has never been better, for once his irritability is a real asset to a film. Also funny, is the idea of junkie Sam Riley finding out that he’s taking part in an arms deal that involves the guy who beat him up last night for violently disrespecting the latter’s cousin. These are some awful, idiotic people who, when fired upon by unseen assailants (one of them a wasted Patrick Bergin), they still can’t help but shoot at each other as well. It’s amusing for a while, but Oscar-winner Brie Larson (looking incredible) spends the entire film with a facial expression I’d euphemistically refer to as bemusement. It’s not a character choice, the actress (normally absolutely terrific) is out-of-place in this sort of thing and is clearly bored shitless. Apparently Olivia Wilde was the original casting choice, and she might’ve been a better fit than Larson. To be honest, while it’s amusing for a while once the shooting starts, shooting is almost entirely what you get. So the only actors who really make an impression are the ones who did before the shooting started: Hammer, Murphy, and Copley. It’s a shame that the very talented and underrated Noah Taylor barely gets a look in.

If “Smokin’ Aces” was essentially a better version of “Mean Guns”, then this crime flick is a slightly lesser “Smokin’ Aces” (which had some hyper style to it), and they’re all weaker variants on “Reservoir Dogs” (There’s no way Wheatley hasn’t been influenced by that 1992 film). A wannabe Tarantino/Ritchie shoot-‘em-up heavy on gunfire and dialogue, taken a fair way by a pretty good cast. Produced by the esteemed Martin Scorsese, it’s OK on a very superficial level and nearly ends up working, but in the end there’s not enough to it for me to quite recommend.  You’d also swear this thing was from 1997 not 2017.

Rating: C+


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