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Free Fire (SXSW Review)

Having only seen one of director Ben Wheatley’s (Kill List) films before, I had a distinct skepticism about the idea of waiting in line for his next release, Free Fire. The premise of a gun deal gone wrong didn’t really promise much in the way of depth and I knew from his previous work that he had a talent for veering off in completely unnecessary directions in his films, leaving them a disappointment. This film is not a disappointment. It is a tightly directed, charming, funny, and playful action comedy with a great cast and superb sound mixing that remains completely entertaining all the way up to the end.

Free Fire takes place in the late 1970s and involves a gun deal between the unhinged South African Verne, played by Sharlto Copley (District 9) and an IRA member named Chris, played by Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins). The deal is being brokered by two Americans, Justine and Ord, played by Brie Larson (Room) and Armie Hammer (The Social Network) respectively. These groups, with their requisite lackeys brought in to haul the weapons find themselves in a warehouse on the verge of a peaceful exchange of money for weapons when something goes wrong and a shootout begins. The next 90 minutes or so take place during that shootout, with barbs and quips thrown amongst the various characters for an added comedic splash.

While the setup is simple, the execution is stupendous. With bullets and one liners constantly flying back and forth across the warehouse, some landing, some missing the mark, there is plenty going on to keep the viewer engaged and tensely waiting to see if someone gets clipped or can no longer handle hiding behind cover. The blocking and costume work that had to go into making a film where all the characters spend most of their time rolling around on a dirty ground while keeping track of where everyone is in spatial relation to everyone else is laudable. Bullets and dialog whiz through the surround sound and give a special importance to seeing this film in the theater. It is just a delight.

There isn’t much to say really about Free Fire as it is just very clever and entertaining. It doesn’t tease or promise a bunch of twists and it doesn’t try to be anything much larger than a movie about a shootout in a warehouse with a bunch of funny lines and action moments with one great show-stealing scene by Babou Ceesay (“A.D The Bible Continues”). It is very fun to watch, it has great performances, and it is something absolutely worth seeing in a theater. Kick back, have some laughs, and cringe at a few of the more brutal scenes where the characters have to close in on each other. Ben Wheatley has a real hit on his hands here and I can’t wait to see it again!

Director Ben Wheatley answers questions after the screening with Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley. SXSW 2017.

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I like to be challenged to think about things, so I studied Philosophy in college. Now I am paying for it.

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