Free Fire (2016)

*. I never thought I’d say something like this but . . . I think this movie would’ve been better with zombies.
*. I’m thinking something along the lines of the French film The Horde (2009), where you had a bunch of bad guys with an arsenal of weapons shooting it out in a derelict apartment building before the hungry dead come knocking. That would have been fun here. Gangsters in ’70s style fashion armed to the teeth in an abandoned warehouse and then . . . zombies!
*. I’m not saying that would be the most original concept ever, but compared to this? What’s the point of this movie? An arms deal at a warehouse goes south and the different parties start shooting at each other. I’ve seen it billed as the longest gunfight in movie history, lasting 55 minutes. Great. But that’s it. Less than halfway through I was waiting for the zombies.
*. Sure, it might have worked. With innovative direction or some interesting new slant on how to present such an action staple. With a more complicated plot, and maybe a twist or two. With better dialogue or lively, well-drawn characters. Hey, even with more violence, or at least something beyond the usual squibs exploding on shoulders and legs.
*. But Free Fire has none of that. It’s not bad at what it does, but it isn’t very good or very original either. And what it does is so damn simple it just comes across as pointless. It only exerts a grim sort of fascination, like watching some endurance sporting event where the characters crawl around on their bellies, bleeding into the dirt, struggling to survive.

*. On the DVD commentary writer-director Ben Wheatley sums it up as “basically a kind of political crime thriller that never gets out of the first two minutes of the film, it just grinds to a halt and sits in the first scene.” I wonder if he was joking. It all seems like such a let down after High-Rise, which had just been the year before.
*. There’s an interesting tidbit on the commentary where Wheatley says that Tom Davis (he’s the big fellow who shows up at the warehouse near the end) actually can’t drive. This made me think of the commentary for Get Carter (1971) where I found out that Michael Caine couldn’t drive. This surprises me. I can understand people who don’t drive. I sold my own car a couple of years ago and have only driven a few times since. Apparently a lot of young people these days are choosing to live car-less. But how do you go through life without ever learning how to drive? That must take some effort.
*. The movie it gets compared to the most is Reservoir Dogs. The soundtrack, which I’d call retro but since the film is set in the ’70s isn’t (the use of John Denver, though, certainly is ironic). The mixture of comedy and brutal violence. The gang of bad guys in the warehouse turning on each other. Even the business of there being a rat in the group whose identity the others are trying to figure out. So yes, there are plenty of surface resemblances. But I don’t see this as a step beyond Tarantino. It’s much less.
*. It’s a decent cast, given very little to do. Brie Larson in particular looks out of place. Which leads me to another point. For such a simple set-up I felt there was a lot to the plot that still needed explaining. What was Justine’s role in all this? Just a facilitator? Wouldn’t that make Ord redundant? Why didn’t Stevo tell Frank that there were issues between him and Hank? Then they could have come up with a work-around. Was the original plan to have the snipers kill everyone? How was that going to work?
*. As you would expect, the production team worked on the layout of the warehouse extensively. Despite this, there’s no clear sense of space in the movie. This turns into a big drawback. I just couldn’t follow where all the characters were placed and where (or why) they were moving.
*. In the “making of” featurette included with the DVD Larson talks about how the directive on set was for everything to be “cool.” This reminded me of the imperative to be cool that David Leitch talks about on his commentary for Atomic Blonde. This made me wonder if there’s any other mode for filmmaking other than cool (and its flipside irony).
*. I’m sympathetic to writer-director Ben Wheatley’s desire to do a smaller, more restricted action-thriller instead of the usual epic, superhero nonsense. He wanted to do things “a bit more realistically” (but immediately stresses that he didn’t want to be completely realistic). That said, I think he needed to find some way to liven things up a bit. Even just using that dolly to zip around the warehouse more.
*. Well, I said Free Fire isn’t bad at what it does. It’s at least medium cool. I actually enjoyed it a bit more the second time through. Fans of gangster movies should have no trouble remaining engaged for 90 minutes. There’s not much else on offer here though aside from the usual routine, however well put forth. Reservoir Dogs was a gamechanger in 1992. I feel like we’re still waiting for someone to change it again.

2 thoughts on “Free Fire (2016)

  1. Tom Moody

    Wheatley’s earlier work was pretty intriguingly dark (Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England).
    I haven’t seen these later ones and am not sure if I will. Kill List had a lot of murdering but also the occult and horrible marital strife mixed in; it was offputting and unpredictable; it wasn’t just people in a warehouse shooting each other. Thanks for the warning.

    Reply
    1. Alex Good Post author

      I’ve heard good things about A Field in England and hope to see it sometime. I did like High-Rise but that’s the only other movie of his I’ve seen. I’ve heard he’s working on a new version of Rebecca now that sounds like it could be good. I’m interested in seeing what he’s going to do with it anyway.

      This movie though struck me as kind of pointless.

      Reply

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