You know how modern trailers are annoying because they give away the entire film? That scenario is practically impossible to avoid with “Free Fire.” The trailer consists of a handful of eclectic personalities quipping and shooting at each other. The movie consists of a handful of eclectic personalities quipping and shooting at each other.
So yes, “Free Fire” is a simple pleasure. Writer/director Ben Wheatley’s previous film High-Rise was an overindulgent clutter, stuffed so full of big ideas and social commentary that it was incomprehensible. In response, he’s swung his filmmaking pendulum to the opposite end of the spectrum, making a movie that will certainly draw (and earn) complaints for existing purely on a surface level.
Still, “Free Fire” is the best a movie can be without striving for depth or thematic content whatsoever. It’s a more meticulously composed version of mindless entertainment; an exercise in gleeful nihilism designed to thrill and then dissipate from your memory.
Despite the amount of times they’re shouted, I don’t remember the names of any of the characters — except for Vernon, who’s embodied by Sharlto Copley stealing the show, as he’s accustomed to. Vernon and nine other people with various allegiances show up at a Boston warehouse in the middle of the night for an arms deal. A driver for the sellers recognizes a driver for the buyers as the man who assaulted his cousin, and an inevitable fight breaks out between them. The fight spirals out of control and soon everyone is grabbing their guns and diving for cover.
The narrative of “Free Fire” flaunts its no-frills approach almost like it’s taunting anyone who expected more. Wheatley’s screenplay only strives for the bare bones of guilty pleasure amusement: comedy and violence. It develops the characters up until the point that they’re distinct personalities — and to the credit of both the writers and the actors, they’re delightfully unique creatures straightaway — and then lets them try to murder each other for the better part of an hour.
Perhaps the biggest star of “Free Fire” is its casting director, who pulled off the miracle of finding a cast that’s as perfect as the actors are game. As aforementioned, Sharlto Copley outshines the rest of the talent with his roguish charm and ability to inject infinite personality into a few words. Brie Larson also utilizes her performance economically, building a character that’s different from all her previous roles through only sparse lines and moments. The rest blend together not because they’re mediocre, but because they’re great across the board.
Structuring “Free Fire” must have taken pages of technical schematics. Wheatley conducts his orchestra of bullets and witty off-screen dialogue with impeccable direction and pacing — until the last twenty minutes or so, when the film starts to feel like watching too many violent cartoons in a row. When the blood drawn is still fresh, “Free Fire” is a good time that guarantees uproarious laughter.
But it has no staying power. If it doesn’t hit before the credits roll, the artifice of it all becomes clear upon leaving the theater: the characters are pawns that provide no reason to care about them; the shootouts are fun but ultimately forgettable. “Free Fire” is a ballistic blast in the moment and a distant memory ten minutes later.