Set in the 1970’s Boston, Free Fire begins on a local dock as night has fallen. Two Irish men Chris and Frank (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) wait patiently with American Justine (Brie Larson) for an impending arms deal at a disused factory. Inside awaits fellow American Ord (Armie Hammer) alongside avuncular arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his trusty troupe, including Jack Reynor’s Harry. The deal, while obviously risky, looks like going off without a hitch, until long-standing beef between Harry and Stevo (Sam Riley) turns the deal towards the ugly side, and soon the warehouse becomes a firing ground with few places to hide.
Set at a break-neck pace, Free Fire‘s strengths lie in its propulsive story which takes no time in getting the engines revving and the shoot-out into full tilt mode. Playing almost like a multi-player level of Call of Duty, the gangs and prospective profiteers separate and duck for cover as the free fire begins in earnest. Ben Wheatley’s sharp, smooth camera roars in and around the action as the tension begins to crank, while the cinematographer’s sharp, piercing lighting ensconces the environment around them, keeping the action fierce and bold.
Adding even more propulsion is Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump’s witty script that pierces the tension, adding levity and drollness when it’s most needed. That said however, once the first half has abated and the firing subsides, so does the pace of the film which slows to a muted crawl from which it never really recovers. Even at a short ninety minute run-time, the film feels much longer than it needs to be, and while a few surprises do rescue it towards its conclusion, it never regains its excellent momentum from the opening exchanges and becomes slightly monotonous when it should be thrilling.
It never regains its excellent momentum from the opening exchanges and becomes slightly monotonous when it should be thrilling.
In the acting stakes, almost everyone brings their best to the table, with Sharlto Copley the stand-out. The South African hasn’t perhaps been at his best in recent years, but here he’s superbly with a brilliant turn that rediscovers the superb comic timing of his underrated turn as Face in The A-Team. Murphy is as dependable as ever while Brie Larson, fresh from her Oscar turn in Room, revels in the change of pace even if the script let’s her down in places. Armie Hammer too is good fun throughout, as is Jack Reynor, despite looking like Seth Rogen’s doppelganger.
There’s lots of fun to be had with Free Fire: if you want an energetic action-comedy-thriller then this one’s for you. And while it may lose some momentum as it races towards its finale, there are some really great moments that make it a fun night at the movies.