Produced by Martin Scorsese, “Free Fire” is rollicking action fun that throws great actors together for a nonstop gunfight in one setting. While it sounds like a pitch that could spread itself thin, director Ben Wheatley (“High-Rise,” “Kill List”) milks the premise for every last second and serves up inventive action with sides of hilarious insanity.
Set in 1978 Boston, the fun begins with an arms deal between two Irish gunmen, the levelheaded Chris (Cillian Murphy) and belligerent Frank (Michael Smiley), and the South American arms dealers Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Martin (Babou Ceesay), who own a bevy of rifles and dueling mod outfits. Even cooler than Chris is his intermediary Justine (Brie Larson), who’s practically comparable to Ord (Armie Hammer), a bearded frontman for the arms dealers.
Aside from the usual banter we expect from criminals, the volatile tension is tipped over the iceberg once a feud between infantrymen Harry (Jack Reynor) and Stevo (Sam Riley) returns, denting the night and ultimately starting the feature-length shootout.
If Sam Peckinpah ever got the chance to reimagine “Reservoir Dogs,” this might be it. A seamless mix of suspense and dark comedy, “Free Fire” blends familiar tropes from ‘70s British crime movies into a modern action extravaganza. From Copley’s flamboyant crime boss, to Hammer’s figurehead smoking between bullets, to Larson’s deadpan fatale, each archetype is slightly tweaked to make their ridiculous situation incredibly funny.
Co-written by Wheatley, his effort avoids repetition by offering plenty of great one-liners and repartee among the leads. Much like Quentin Tarantino’s work, the action in “Free Fire” is either brutally unsettling or so gonzo that it’s fantastic. Wheatley is wise in how he plays around with cathartic sequences of violence and being just plain shocking, which both lead to some of the funniest moments in the film.
To say that every cast member brings their A-game is a no-brainer at this point. The biggest names are either fan favorites (Murphy), actors in Oscar favorites (Larson and Hammer) or people you might not recognize, but have been in movies you love (Smiley).
But if anyone deserves his props, it’s Jack Reynor. After playing the creepy old boyfriend in the visual assault of “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” Reynor was a solid Malcolm in an otherwise mediocre adaptation of “Macbeth,” and even better as the charming stoner brother in the wonderful musical “Sing Street.” Here, he steals the show as a trigger-happy John Denver fan with a chip on his shoulder, which is just as awesome as it sounds.
Best of all, Wheatley never cheats the premise by leaving the setting at any point. What you read in the synopsis is what the film stays true to, which is impressive considering how it’s a period film. Since there’s no cellphone or advanced weaponry to function anachronistically, his film consistently (and successfully) fuels tension without ever cheapening it.
Simply put, “Free Fire” is a lot of fun and one of the more entertaining efforts in A24’s oeuvre. Quickly establishing itself as a quality movie distributor, they’re one of my favorites right now and “Free Fire” is another reason for my enthusiasm. This great action comedy is worth checking out when it’s released.
Featured Image: Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley and Michael Smiley star in A24’s “Free Fire.” SXSW.