Take how fast and kinetic you imagine Free Fire to be and then half it, and maybe half it again once you’ve done that. Despite being a film about witty gangsters and their high level arms deal, the film is shockingly dedicated to the reality of their incompetence. Seems to take place about an average of three feet off the ground, because the reality of getting brained in this sorta situation is something all want to avoid; and for all the macho posturing the best way to avoid that fate is to cower behind your cover.
That’s sorta what Ben Wheatly and Amy Jump’s writing collaborations have been about though, finding the sick humour in the pretentions of the incompetent. Like how professional assassins balk in the face of real unexplainable evil. How all the magic of 1600s court magicians crumbles after, in their hunger, they’re driven to eating the riskier countryside mushrooms. Here, our irony is that it’s a quarrel between two of the manual labourers that causes the situation to devolve. After all the tension between our buyers and sellers it’s the van drivers who blow the lid off.
Course, once the bodies hit the floor, concerns get a lot more atavistic. I guess it another joint where the conceit necessarily has to become the plot. The threat of imminent death puts the movie on hold for a bit. For about five minutes there I wondered if it would even recover. Cos that opening has a heavy focus on dialogue; ten characters, all fairly well featured, need to get their setup. First fifteen minutes go by in a haze of exposition and explanation. Next ten are basically wordless.
Not soundless though, cos that’s the point where the ammo is plentiful. They make the good choice of not burning through the bodies at this point, but burning through options. It hard to describe exactly what happens, there’s a couple’a twists in there, but the film defies conventional plotting. We move more into a series of vignettes: these little short arcs where our characters establish a goal, work out a plan and then try to execute.
Recovering the cash briefcase. Getting to the phone. Immobilising the van. It stops being a movie about talking and starts being a movie about doing. Ain’t no coincidence that this is a film full of dudes, and muscular action hero dudes at that. Armie Hammer. Cilian Murphy. Sharlto Copley. Freud tells us that the gun is a penis, so we got a whole film of these blokes waving they cocks about. But good action, like a good dick pic, gotta be well conceived; and for every stellar sequence there’s another that falls flat.
Like, I don’t wanna spoil one of the weakest too much because it’s one of the film’s few proper reveals, but let’s say our main cast may not be the only folks in the building. So we follow that lead for a while until it reaches a conclusion and it’s dull. Two more men in the shadows for everyone to be confused about. But then you got the scene where a crippled guy is trying to take shelter behind a rolling cart that is slowly picking up speed on a gentle slope and it’s oh so east to forgive.
I’m a little less forgiving to its politicking though. Look, it a juicy setup here, and i get why these elements attracted them so. In the late seventies, early eighties, Irishmen buying guns means IRA. South African arms dealer serves as a stand in for the world’s conflicted emotions about their apartheid. He got a black partner who used to be a panther (it didn’t work out.) And Brie Larson’s shoulder pads and pantsuit describe the end of second wave feminism, in parallel to Armie Hammer’s Reaganism.
The film does so little with this, so little. It’s such a waste, it’s a nice background, but background becomes irrelevant if you refuse to address it in any way in the text. So for all this possibility it just ends up another flick with an overwhelmingly white cast and precious little to say.
Jeez, I wanna love this film something bad. It’s so close to being this platonic imagined version of a pop classic. But it not though. I ain’t sure how to explain it. It’s rum. It’s hollow. It’s what Prisencolinensinainciusol is to actual American rock. It’s clearly the film it wants to be, but at the same time it falls so fallow from the films it wishes it were.
Image courtesy of StudioCanal UK