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…
Submarine is the directorial debut of Richard Ayoade, and critical praise has been given to both director and film alike. Ayoade may be best known for his work on British television’s Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd. I am a huge fan of British comedy in general, but it was my love of The IT Crowd, that piqued my interest in seeing this film. I love to see talents I enjoy taking on new challenges, and some of the better directors (in my opinion) are actors, so I was excited to see how Ayoade would handle the crossover.
Submarine tells the story of Oliver Tate, a teenager growing up in Wales in the 1980s. Oliver doesn’t quite fit in, and narrates us through the events of his coming of age. Shot with a variety of styles, some quick cuts, some freeze frame, some documentary style, some narration, and some imagination, Submarine never fails to keep the viewer’s attention.
The film is broken up into three acts, with Act One opening at school as Oliver tries to fit in by partaking in an act of bullying on another misfit. Unfortunately it goes a bit too, so Oliver in his regret, makes and sends her a pamphlet to deal with the occurrence. The act of bullying however has a benefit for Oliver, as he now catches the eye of Jordana, who blackmails him into a photographed kiss, which leads to Oliver getting in a fight, which leads to him becoming Jordana’s boyfriend.
In Act Two, we learn about Oliver’s parents, played by Sally Hawkins (mother Jill) and Noah Taylor (father Lloyd). There is tension in the Tate household, and it is filmed so well by Ayoade that you enjoy every second of it. Oliver has been spying on his parents, sensing the demise of their marriage. He charts their lovemaking by the position of their dimmer switch in the morning. The light has been at full strength for months now. To make matters worse, he discovers that their new neighbour “mystic” self-help speaker Graham T Purvis (played by Paddy Considine) is a past boyfriend of his mothers. His mother longs to be appreciated. His father has been plunged into depression, and inactivity. With his attention now split between his parents and his relationship with Jordana, Oliver’s teenage life gets even more complicated when Jordana informs him that her mother is dying, and he believes his mother is having an affair.
Act Three is full of the confrontations we expect with Jordana, Graham Purvis, and Jill and Lloyd. Submarine was a very touching film, filled with great warmth and wit, while taking a serious look at both teenage and adult relationships. It is hard to really make a comedic film that deals with growing up, divorce, brain tumours, and depression, but Submarine masterfully handles them all with a kind of gentleness, and with great humour. Many of Oliver’s voiceovers and his reactions to the situations thrust upon him made me laugh out loud. “My mum gave a handjob to a mystic” could soon become a classic line, quoted for years.
The casting in this film was excellent, and both the young leads (Craig Roberts and Yasmin Paige) did a fantastic and believable job as their misfit characters. The established veteran actors were a joy as well. Noah Taylor really impressed me as his character seemed to move through several stages of depression, and Sally Hawkins was extremely funny as Oliver’s neurotic mom.
Also of note is the soundtrack/score, which was written and performed by Alex Turner, lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys; for whom Ayoade already directed three of their music videos. I’ve never really been into music before. Before the antenna from my car was stolen (on July 1st….this year….Canada Day long weekend….not that I’m bitter…those bastards) I still only listened to the oldies station on my AM radio. Ironically, in the late ’90s, I ran the music section of my store for a few years, without really ever listening to a single CD produced in that decade. My lack of musical knowledge is well known at work, but I’ve stunned a few recently as I’ve really started to notice the musical choices in several of the movies I’ve reviewed. After watching Jack Goes Boating, my staff were amazed I knew who the Fleet Foxes. I may have to surprise a few more on Monday with some Arctic Monkeys references…
I think that as directorial debuts go, Ayaode deserves top marks. The film was funny, thoughtful, well shot, well paced, and excellently scored. Given the quality of his first film, I can only assume and anticipate we will have more excellent movies from Ayoade in the future.