In Free Fire, a batch of criminals meet up in a warehouse to do a simple deal: money for guns. But things go south and this deserted warehouse becomes a battlefield. We spend essentially the entire movie inside the warehouse in an extended stand-off/gunfight. It’s a premise to die for and I haven’t even mentioned that third group that shows up. This is a real test for a director, but Wheatley pulls it off beautifully. The first third or so is just an exercise in slowly ratcheting tension; we know violence is going to explode at some point, but the question is when and why. After that, the movie becomes a very violent film with plenty of surprises, thrills and dark comedy. I’ve talked before about how it’s somewhat concerning to me that movies have become more and more comfortable with extreme violence as comedy. It was funny, for instance, when Deadpool shot that unarmed guy right in the head while Colossus was making a dramatic plea for mercy, but it was also a little uncomfortable to hear a roar of laughter go up because an unarmed man just got murdered. Well, this one will certainly push your buttons that way, but if comedy is timing, then this movie is perfectly calibrated. There’s a moment when a fire ignites and a character is suddenly engulfed in flames and it’s so perfectly timed that when the guy whooshed up I laughed out loud in shock and (horribly) delight. The cast is really great, all the way down to the ground. Cillian Murphy deserves special mention as an IRA member with something approaching real ideals; he’s the closest thing the movie has to a moral center and, you know, he’ll ******* kill you in a second so this isn’t a movie about human virtue. It could be considered a flaw of the film that he’s really the only character that comes alive as a fully formed person, but then these other people in this warehouse aren’t fully formed characters, because they’re not fully formed people – they’re psychopaths. Leading the charge on that front is a deliriously unhinged Sharlto Copley. He’s gorgeous and incredibly funny. Armie Hammer has charm to spare as a super-competent killer who can’t believe he’s trapped in a situation this ridiculous; he brings a real swagger to his role and it’s probably his best performance to date. A young actor named Sam Riley gives, as far as I’m concerned, a star-making performance as a wacky, sleazy IRA soldier. Jack Reynor, so good as the affable older brother in Sing Street, is nothing short of brilliant as he pulls off a real achievement given the roster of characters here: he’s easily the least likable, most repulsive character of them all. Brie Larson is on hand as well and she makes the most of her part, though it’s one of the most underwritten of them all, I think. If you’re in the mood for heroes or good triumphing over evil, this is not the movie for you. But if you’re in the mood for a nasty thriller, filled with bad people having bad things happen to them, then Free Fire is the movie for you. 4 stars.
tl;dr – high-concept thriller features bad people doing bad things in an extended stand-off, but dark wit, great performances & real tension elevate it to a genre masterpiece. 4 stars.