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Free Fire (Blu-ray Review)

I love seeing various action movies that show you two extremes. On the one side, you get a vintage John Woo flick like Hard Boiled, where Chow Yun-fat can equip himself with dual pistols and slide down a staircase banister while hitting plenty of bad guys. The other side leads something like one of my favorites, The Way of the Gun or the subject of this Blu-ray review, Free Fire, where people are terrible at shooting guns, regardless of distance and it’s a complicated process to actually put someone down for good. This action-comedy from director Ben Wheatley delivers on its simple premise, making for an incredibly entertaining ride through one sloppy shootout. While it came and went in theaters, Free Fire is now available on Blu-ray for all to see.

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Film:

Set in 1978 for no other reason than to keep cell phones out of the plot and make sure each character is identifiable by their stylish hair and colorful clothing, Free Fire is a movie about an arms deal that goes south in the worst possible way. Two groups meet at a deserted warehouse in Boston, an unpredictable connection between members on each side complicates things, and a protracted shootout makes up an hour of this 90-minute film. It’s a messy shootout, featuring participants that range from cocky to scared for their lives and the attitudes of the cast reflect that gloriously.

One side features Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley and Enzo Cilenti. The other side features Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay and Noah Taylor. Thanks to some solid production design (I wonder if they found this warehouse by chance), the ensemble cast can spread out and explore their surroundings in a manner fitting of the situation. Characters are ducking behind all sorts of cover, moving to the various levels of this building and doing their best to gain the upper hand.

Co-written by Amy Jump, the film gets a lot of mileage out of the clever ways she and Wheatley frame the action and provide plenty of dialogue, one-liners, and insults for these characters to hurl at each other. There is a lot of humor in this film, but it also does fine to justify why this shootout even needs to happen. Nobody wants to be in this situation, but the thrill of seeing tensions boil and reach a breaking point is handled quite well, and the results continue to find a balance between suspense and comedy.

It could be said that the film is short on character, which is not entirely inaccurate, but also unfair to what the film is err… aiming for. Free Fire throws us in with these characters on purpose, as there should be an enigmatic quality about them, but I also generally relish the chance to see actors perform in these conditions. Given the budget and scale of this film, it’s not as if any of them signed up purely for the money. It seems apparent that they wanted to have fun and be able to explore and act out who each of their characters are through some simple moments of setup and where the action takes them. It may not be incredibly deep, but you can boil down the process to its core by looking at what these people are doing here.

Not hurting in the character department is seeing each of them shine in their way. Hammer is a standout, as his cavalier attitude throughout the film leads to a lot of fun moments and banter. Copley is also another highlight, as the livewire energy he tends to bring to films is appropriately utilized here to make sure you know things are going to go wrong and keep getting worse. The other actors have their moments as well, with Murphy coolly underplaying his role, while Larson ends up feeling underused. Still, for a 90-minute film, there’s little to complain about from these performances.

As an action picture, it is great to watch people be exhausted, inexperienced and worried. From the audience perspective, while it can be fun to see “guns go bang” you also root for everyone to keep their cool and try to find a way out, allowing for extra suspense when certain moments of truth occur. And yes, watching people coming at each other from different angles means seeing various bits of gunplay, with neat payoffs, depending on who’s encountering who.

With minimal score, some interesting soundtrack choices and a dirty look to counter the 70s duds, it’s also a well-made film cinematically. Setting the film entirely in one location keeps things simple and it never hurts to see a film that feels like it thought out all the needed possibilities when making sure to get the most rewarding results. It’s an economical film, which is quite fitting, given how the whole thing surrounded an attempt to get in and out, with both parties initially wanting money and guns.

Free Fire is a true blast. Colorful characters and consistently well-staged action is made all the more enjoyable thanks to a witty script. The film doesn’t overstay its welcome and delivers on the concept of having one lengthy shootout take up the majority of screen time. That should provide plenty of fun for action fans, as this is stylish escapism through and through.

Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

Clarity/Detail: Free Fire was shot digitally and while it takes place almost entirely inside of a dingy warehouse, the film looks pretty good on Blu-ray. The confined space means a lot of somewhat dim lighting, though not dim enough to take less of an account for the fancy 70s suits everybody is wearing. Lots of clarity to be found in the detailing of these various fabrics, along with the amount of dust and debris seen throughout the film.

Depth: Good spacing seen throughout this film. Part of the film’s design has to do with getting a read on where each character is, throughout this film, which is helped by the dimensionality.

Black Levels: Black levels are deep throughout. Some scenes later in the film put more emphasis on darkness, which works and features no sign of crush.

Color Reproduction: I mentioned the costume design and that’s what helps the colors pop. There is a lot to take in on this front, even if the conditions of the film somewhat soften these elements at times.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures register strongly here. Detail is well-handled.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing of note.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: Between the constant shouting and shooting, there is a lot to enjoy in this lossless audio mix for the film. While the movie wasn’t a huge hit for A24, it would have been nice to get a full Atmos mix or even a 7.1 track for this release, but what we have is still plenty satisfying.

Low-Frequency Extension: There are some moments involving the soundtrack and certain visual elements that lend itself well to the LFE aspect.

Surround Sound Presentation: A good balance is had on this track. Dialogue plays on the center channel, with the majority of sound playing center as well as on the front channels. But it’s all the action that manages to carry since people are being shot at from all over. Everything registers quite cleanly while making use of all the channels.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone is loud and clear.

 

Extras:

There’s a commentary track here that’s pretty enjoyable, but nothing else of note beyond a quick featurette.

Features Include:

  • Audio Commentary with Director Ben Wheatley and actors Cillian Murphy and Jack Reynor – All the press materials only mention Wheatley, but the other actors join to make this a very enjoyable track that delves into both the challenges and fun stories about the production.
  • The Making of Free Fire (HD, 15:58) – It’s a pretty typical EPK that gets into some neat details and features interviews with everyone.
  • Trailers (HD)
  • Digital HD Copy of the Film

 

Summary:

It’s a shame Free Fire didn’t become a small breakout hit for A24 in theaters, but I have a feeling it’s a film that will catch on. It’s the kind of easy watch that’s fun to jump into and has enough action to satisfy a variety of fans looking for both humor and a neat take on an extended gun fight. The Blu-ray does enough to satisfy as well, with a solid video transfer and a great audio track. The commentary track is also good enough for the extras section. Decent home release for a film that should be seen by more.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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