‘Free Fire’ unique take on crime genre

by RYAN FITZGERALD//Staff Writer

free fire

“Free Fire” was different. It is puzzling, yet in some odd way, surprising.

In a surprisingly snarky and dark way, the film seems to reflect a mash up of Quinton Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs,” with a bastardized stage production of some new “West Side Story” spinoff.

“Free Fire” is centered around a 1970s-arms deal gone awry. Irish separatists intend to buy a truckload of automatic weapons from a South African gun-runner named Vernon (Sharlto Copley), who can’t help but continually suffer from the emotional fallout of being misdiagnosed as a child genius.

Vern, accompanied by Ord (Armie Hammer), his American go-between, agree to meet at a Boston warehouse as the site for a classic exchange of guns for money, with their Northern Irish contingent of Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), in addition to Justine (Brie Larson), the lady who facilitates the whole deal.

As the exchange is set to conclude, anarchy abounds. Based on a prior confrontation, two worthless bums, one hired muscle by the Irish and the other by Vernon, are just in attendance to serve as paid labor for moving the weapons. But they rekindle a personal grudge from the night before, plunging the entire arms deal into chaos.  After one opens fire on another, the entire situation gets out of hand, as the idea of honor among thieves is thrown out the window.

At this point, the film becomes an extended shootout that resembles the final act of any gangster movie or western film. This is what the story becomes – a narrative spun out of the comedic aspects of the violent calamity that ensues.

The film, in and of itself, is a bit of a satirical piece – exploiting the stereotypes associated with a modern Hollywood shootout and making fun of the most boisterous of the crime noir genre. There are bullets flying everywhere. No one ever seems to need to reload a weapon. Everyone gets nicked, bullet wounds snowball, and then each character over reacts in response to the severity of the situation. Still, members have time for the occasional cigarette, the over-dramatic hunt for more ammo and even time to worry about the destruction of their new suits, all the while poking fun at one another throughout the entire incident.

If it wasn’t for the cast’s charisma and smooth play off one another, the film would have fallen flat. Moreover, the export use of lighting and flamboyant colors may have contributed to the stylistic choices of the 1970s, than by design, contribute to particularly clear visuals, which perfectly captures the mayhem of bullets ripping through the shoulder pad of someone’s suit, or flinging about dirt and debris, as they ricochet off concrete columns in every direction.

“Free Fire” expresses a new level of irony, in that being an organized criminal is far from the under-the-radar, clandestine, espionage-esque operation that many think it is. Rather, it’s really just a mess of misinformed, particularly shallow agendas among individuals who do not know how to communicate, or really play well with others.

The story ends predictably, as someone watching this film through the eyes of exaggeration and ridicule would expect. Director Ben Wheatley offers what would almost be considered a parody, with a film that exposes a preposterously elaborate plot that looks past motive and plan for something reactionary and unrefined.

The film keeps viewers vested in the players, and the mysteries as to why each character is reluctant to just call a truce or step away from the action. The movie seems to reach a point when movie-goers forget that the entire film occurs on the main floor of the same old Boston warehouse – no change in location or scenery. Yet Wheatley stands firm with his creative vision, with equally imaginative camera angles to make the film feel fresh throughout.

“Free Fire” is generally entertaining, a bit cynical, and offers an exchange of the juxtaposition of wit between two factions. The characters are all portrayed as an egocentric, rag-tag group of morons who have no clue how to conduct business as responsible adults.  Instead, audiences could rejoice in the fact that each character’s lifespan in the film ends as a result of the age-old mantra, “he had it coming.”

I give “Free Fire” 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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