Free Fire

by Greg Vellante

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday April 21, 2017

Armie Hammer starrs in 'Free Fire'
Armie Hammer starrs in 'Free Fire'  

Like a cinematic bullet hitting you square in the chest, the most immediately striking aspect of "Free Fire" is its inimitable approach to technical craft.

Writer/director Ben Wheatley's sixth feature film finds the English filmmaker further expanding his artistic explorations into senseless violence, inherent animal instincts and the survivalist nature of mankind, all within the context of a film that arguably best exemplifies the themes that Wheatley has built a career on. While the filmmaker's motifs often have a morbid, darkly humorous refrain to them, they've never been quite as fun to experience as they are in "Free Fire." The film is essentially a singular, real-time, 90-minute action sequence where a group of narcissists, idiots, bastards and one woman square off in an arms deal that goes terribly wrong, devolving into bullet-flying mayhem.

Not going to lie: Seeing a bunch of morons together in a room, foolishly handling weapons they shouldn't be allowed to use, hits a little too close to home in this current political climate of egotistical nuclear dick-measuring. But that's also what makes "Free Fire" so damn funny and smart. As the shootout begins to escalate, a character pleads for Sharlto Copley's Vernon to put an end to the madness. "It's too late! I've been insulted!" he replies, perfectly summing up the film's entire theme -- the precarious product of mixing arrogance, a loaded gun and an itchy trigger finger.

As the bullets burst exponentially and the body count continues to rise, it's easy to get the sense that nobody involved wanted to be in this situation in the first place. The only problem is that everybody is too proud to admit a desire for resolution. It's every man for himself, and every man fits an archetype of hilarious pseudo-masculinity. From the false swagger and scented beard oil of Armie Hammer's Ord to the reckless stoner duo of Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), the film floods in eclectically idiotic and conceited characters who are one by one executed by their own egotism. The absurdity of everyone's pride eventually has you rooting for the bullets. Brie Larson's Justine is the diamond in the rough, and I love what the film accomplishes with her character, even if it takes a little bit of time to get there.

What remains fluid throughout the whole film, however, is the aforementioned dexterity in the filmmaking. "Free Fire" is a work of technical mastery on nearly every level, pushing the limits of its momentum to a point where it almost becomes a breathless experience. Wheatley's mindful blocking and choreography of the film's persistent real-time pandemonium is a marvel in and of itself, while the sound work adds another layer of virtuosity to the mix. The barren warehouse location lends itself wonderfully to both the action and the acoustics -- the echoes of bullets accompany the expertly-assembled action with a precision that even the most notable of blockbuster tent poles have been known to ignore.

Seeing this shortly after "The Fate of the Furious" was refreshing. Where "Fate's" director, F. Gary Gray, was merely pressing play on a boom box, Wheatley is conducting an entire orchestra. It's like if Beethoven had chosen to compose his work with bullets instead of the piano. The notes are all there, but the melodies are written in blood, the sheet music riddled with bullet holes.