Even though Brie Larson gets top billing, Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer shine in this indie shoot-em-up.
In the 1970’s, Justine (Brie Larson) sets up an arms deal between some Irish freedom fighters and a South African arms dealer. They meet in a warehouse to do the deal. The Irish are led by Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley). They are immediately put off by the smug South African, Vernon (Sharlto Copley). The deal is moved along thanks to his partner, Martin (Babou Ceesay). They are also accompanied by a jaded mercenary named Ord (Armie Hammer).
Things quickly turn south when one of the Irish gang, Stevo (Sam Riley) and one of the guys driving the truck, Harry (Jack Reynor) see each other. The night before, Harry had beaten Stevo up for roofie-ing his sister. When Harry sees Stevo again, he tries to go after him, but both sides separate them and try to move forward with the deal. When junkie Stevo continues to taunt Harry, he responds by pulling out a gun and shooting him. Once shots are fired, both sides scramble for cover and begin exchanging fire, barbs and insults.
Instead of turning into a display of weapon wielding proficiency, this situation devolves into a muddy, crawling mess of bodies. Characters from both sides continuously suffer non-fatal gun wounds that leave them crawling around the warehouse looking for a solution or a way out. They try working out a conditional truce that would allow Justine , who’s been shot in the leg, to leave and get backup from both sides. Then, they try calling for backup on their own using a phone in the warehouse. There’s also the revelation that someone who was part of the deal set them up by hiring snipers to take people out. Ultimately, all their actions result in a last-man-standing scenario where only one person walks out alive.
SPOILER: That person is Justine who, it turns out, was in on hiring the snipers to begin with. However, she gets her own surprise as the police show up before she can hobble out of the warehouse on her injured leg.
What did I think?
This is a movie that’s pretty entertaining, but seems a little too low key for what it is. If you look at it as a drama with a twist, it’s more action packed than necessary. However, if you look at it as a movie about a shootout, it’s pretty slow and lacks some of the action-packed pacing that you’d expect. I think I was going in expecting the latter, which made this a little disappointing for me. Despite my personal disappointment, there were a lot of positives in the movie.
Edit: Recently I heard a comment that described Free Fire as a “sprawling action movie that never gets past the first act because idiots f— it up”. So, apparently, the thing that disappointed me most about this movie is that it felt like it was meant to feel. C’est la vie.
I thought that Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer’s characters were captivating and hilarious in their own ways. Copley’s South African swindler persona was the kind of guy that you just want to see get punched in the face. He’s an insufferable worm throughout, but he’s so melodramatic about his own life being in peril that it’s entertaining. On the other hand you have Hammer’s Ord, who’s treating this whole situation like it’s just another boring day at the office. Even when things are at their most dire, he seems apathetic at best. It was fitting that he was one of the last people to be taken out.
There were also some pretty interesting set pieces in this movie. They weren’t Fast and Furious style, over-the-top spectacles. Instead, they were bizarre and gritty moments that played more off of the fact that they were genuinely unexpected. Having Martin get up after being shot in the head and Rambo his way through the warehous before dropping dead was quietly hilarious. I also really liked the low speed van chase inside the warehouse that ended up taking out Harry and Stevo. Those two had been keeping the movie interesting through the second act and it was kind of appropriate to see them take each other out after all of their shouting back and forth.
The thing that feels unique about the movie is the mood of everyone in the shootout. Maybe it’s because it’s the ’70s and people are supposed to be more chill (BTW, it really seems to make no sense for this movie to have to be in the ’70s). Whatever it is, everyone has a strange sense of being very matter of fact about the situation that’s going on. They play this more like it’s a board meeting that’s gone wrong than a high stakes shoot out. It’s all very interesting and parts of it are very entertaining. Unfortunately, it’s that same mellow mood that makes the movie feel like it never really gets big enough or tense enough or action-y enough to really stand out.
Free Fire (2016)
- Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley are lively and charming in their own ways
- The movie's twist is legitimately surprising
- The movie feels like it drags on a bit while watching people literally drag themselves across the floor
- This is a movie where characters aren't really important past being used in a very specific scenario