Usually the climax of an action film is the shootout, in Free Fire, the entire movie was the shootout! In 1970s Boston, two sets of criminals arrange a gun deal, but one of the henchmen (Harry) recognizes one of the other henchmen (Stevo) from a bar fight the night before because the latter assaulted the former’s cousin. Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), Stevo (Sam Riley), Frank (Michael Smiley), Justine (Brie Larson), Chris (Cillian Murphy) are the buyers and Ord (Armie Hammer), Vernon (Sharlto Copley), Martin (Babou Ceesay), Gordon (Noah Taylor), Harry (Jack Reynor) are the sellers. Just when things are almost settled between the two sides someone pulls a gun and shoots someone. Though they are initially split by geography and loose loyalties, it soon becomes a deadly game of “everyone for themselves” as everyone grabs a weapon.
Set entirely in one place (an abandoned factory/warehouse) the story is a bit claustrophobic, but I think it was saved by the characters and the cleverness of the dialogue. While the action was completely over the top, I found it to actually be fairly realistic. Even though they seemed to have an endless supply of bullets, our bad guys (because they are all terrible people who you can’t really root for) do have to stop and reload. Every one of them got shot at some point: a bullet in the arm, a shot in the leg, one man gets grazed in the head exposing his brain; and while it may be gruesome, the violence wasn’t glorified. I also appreciated that the bad guys were not really good shots, it’s difficult to shoot and hit your target especially when you’re a target yourself, and have been hit yourself as well.
Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) pretty much stole the show, but Michael Smiley (Luther) came really close too. I loved the dialogue he had with Armie Hammer, almost as much as I loved the back and forths between Copley and Brie Larson. There wasn’t really a whole lot of a message or purpose or complexity to the movie which is fine, it was pretty much just a black comedy thriller about two groups of trigger happy criminals trying to survive by killing the other guys. It was fun, and that’s all it needed to be. I think it’s safe to say this film was a bit of an experiment, so the runtime of 91 minutes was perfect. I don’t think the film would have worked if it was any longer.
Bottom Line: It’s a good thing there’s no honour among thieves, because if the gun deal went down smoothly, Free Fire would have been an awfully short film…