The Darkly Comedic ‘Free Fire’ Shows You The Way Of The Gun (Movie 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 review, Free Fire, where people are terrible at shooting guns, regardless of distance and it’s a complicated process in order 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.

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 is able to 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 own 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 in an effort 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 actually 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 varied bits of gunplay, with neat payoffs, depending on who’s encountering who.

With minimal score, some interesting soundtrack choices and a grimy 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 really 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 are 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.


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic 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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