With style and attitude to spare, a first-rate ensemble cast, and some big laughs along the way, Free Fire has the ingredients that make it a shoo-in for the midnight-movie canon.
However, this low-budget thriller can be enjoyed at any time of day, especially by action-movie buffs who can enjoy watching the bullets fly early and often in what essentially amounts to one long, bloody shootout in a single location.
The latest from British filmmaker Ben Wheatley (High-Rise) features a simple concept, and firearms aficionados should appreciate this showcase for an impressive array of weaponry that builds up to an elaborate finale filled with gratuitous gunfire.
The setting is a nondescript warehouse in 1970s Boston, where representatives of two rival gangs are meeting to complete a weapons deal. There’s tension from the beginning, with the broker (Brie Larson) struggling to maintain control amid a testosterone festival that includes a slick negotiator (Armie Hammer), the wisecracking South African seller (Sharlto Copley), a level-headed buyer (Cillian Murphy), and various henchmen who can’t keep their mouths shut.
Before long, everybody is settling disputes by firing at one another and the encounter devolves into anarchic chaos, although nobody wants to get the cops involved.
The deliberately over-the-top film relies largely on its throwback technical bravado, since there’s not much character or plot development. You’ll be lucky if you can keep track of everyone’s names, let alone what side they’re on or what hidden motives they might have.
Indeed, it’s difficult to find a rooting interest within this collection of unscrupulous lowlifes. Still, the actors’ enthusiasm for the material — Hammer and Copley are especially hilarious — is infectious. Plus, the period re-creation spotlights some great leisure suits and facial hair.
Of course, the whole premise collapses if you take it too seriously, but the screenplay by Wheatley and Amy Jump — his wife and frequent collaborator — includes some amusing banter that covers the enormous gaps in logic and breaks up the repetitive action.
Free Fire celebrates the art of the big-screen shootout while at the same time offering a subtle critique of the absurdity of gun violence beneath the surface. That’s how the result hits the target.
Rated R, 91 minutes.