Ben Wheatley’s new shoot ’em up, Free Fire, is all 70s fashion and guns and absurdity. And that’s pretty cool.
The man who last year gave us Tom Hiddleston in High Rise — a dystopian bacchanal that ponders the ramifications of an entire society self-contained and defined by the floors of a skyscraper — tosses Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley and Cillian Murphy into a time machine and mashes them up with a dicey arms deal in an abandoned Boston warehouse.
On one side, Chris (Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), and their bumbling lackeys want M-16 rifles to support the Irish cause. On the other, a South African and “international asshole” (Copley), his hired gun (Hammer) and his band of ego boosters want cold hard cash. Everyone involved wants Justine (Larson), who connected these would-be tough guy gangsters, and is strictly “I.I.F.M. — in it for myself.” Everyone’s paranoid about wires, but everyone also assumes everyone else is strapped and has no qualms. That’s what we in the land of logic call a serious error in judgement.
But as petty oneupmanship gives way to a (surprisingly legitimate) beef between two of the minions, the proverbial powder kegs erupt and violent delights ensue.
From there, Free Fire is a riot of banter, bullets and blood. The proceedings unfold in the maze-like rubble of the old warehouse with almost friendly hostilities peppering the air like so many bullets.
Wheatley’s cocktail is lean — at a mere 90 minutes the director observes “Even if you’ve had a beer you can make it through the film without having to take a piss.” The other benefit to the fleetness of plot he employs is that the antics don’t get old. There are a few moments of lag, but more often than not, new and creative errors are being made by our bumbling baddies and we’re left to chortle along with Larson’s cool-headed Justine as pissing contests of every stripe land ill-placed bullets in every limb imaginable.
Free Fire is wacky shoot ’em up that gives a few well earned winks from everyone to Quentin Tarantino to Butch and Sundance. It lives and breathes the era of its creation (mostly for better, occasionally for some cring-y dialogue) and invites the viewer to abandon the rational and embrace the frivolous, the petty and the groovy. And ultimately, it’s a gas.