I wanted to like Free Fire a lot more than I did. Coming from cult British director Ben Wheatley, and featuring a cast full of recognizable faces, most of whom I really like, with the kind of exciting action premise that usually intrigues me, this should have been right up my alley. Instead I came out of it kind of disappointed.
Free Fire utilizes an incredibly simple premise: An arms deal goes bad in a warehouse. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. The real intrigue comes from the many players, the many personalities, the comedy, the writing, the script.
Free Fire is set in a kind of nondescript, seemingly ’70s ish era, in Boston. The setting isn’t really a huge point of plot, except for some of the more interesting fashion choices and some of the character background information (two IRA members and a former Black Panther make up part of the ensemble).
To me, I didn’t find Free Fire half as funny as I think it was intended, and though I had a general sense for the relationships between the characters, it wasn’t clearly outlined enough for me to follow the action entirely. It certainly doesn’t help things that so many of the characters here are middle-aged white guys – even when you recognize the actors, it can be confusing trying to keep straight which white guy with a beard is which. I’m someone who usually doesn’t have much trouble following along with films and I found this one pretty tough to track.
The only really memorable or likable character ended up being Brie Larson’s Justine (styled in a kickass teal blazer). This is partially because she was the only woman, partially because of how great Larson is just generally, and partially because she’s the only character for whom I clearly understood her goals and intentions. She’s the middleman, and she’s just trying to make the deal go smoothly to get her cut. (I also enjoyed Armie Hammer’s performance here, for what it’s worth).
The best comparison I can make to Free Fire is that it reminds me a lot of Reservoir Dogs – it’s the same kind of interrogation of trust and mistrust in the criminal world, with similar high stakes and bloody violence. There have been many imitators of Tarantino over the past two decades; those who enjoy the “Tarantino-esque” style will likely find a lot to enjoy in this film and who will be able to piece together the action a bit better. Others might not find this to be a bare-bones Tarantino enthusiast.
Free Fire is thankfully tight at an hour and thirty minutes, not overstaying its welcome. Even so, I don’t imagine revisiting this any time soon.