I’ve never fired a gun. I don’t really like them and have never understood the appeal. I have friends that love to shoot them, and they don’t shoot them at other people, so that’s fine by me. But, to me, guns just seem kind of loud and obnoxious. I guess I could go to a target practice place and shoot at one of those moving paper targets like in LETHAL WEAPON, but I probably would suck at it, and then get frustrated, and not have any fun. What I’m trying to say is that unless you are hunting, or trying to kill someone, shooting guns seems like playing golf. Some people like it, but I think it seems pretty boring and maddening.
I bring this up because the people of FREE FIRE seem to REALLY like shooting guns. Like, a whole bunch. I would go as far as to say that they might LOVE shooting them. FREE FIRE is essentially a 90-minute exercise in showcasing how much this particular group of people loves shooting guns. There is a ton of gunfire in this movie. Think about how much gunfire you could fit into 90-minutes of a movie, and there is probably even more than that, because here’s the thing: all the characters in FREE FIRE suck at shooting guns. They shoot like I would at one of those target practice places. The whole thing is pretty absurd, which in the end is the point of FREE FIRE.
In addition to all the gunfire, there is a plot In FREE FIRE, and here’s how it goes: It’s 1978 and two groups of gangsters meet for a gun deal in a nondescript warehouse somewhere in Boston. One of the groups contains a few terrorists from the IRA, and the other group seem to be made up of normal run-of-the-mill gun-runners. The black-market meeting starts well enough. There’s some back and forth banter between the two groups, some of it is friendly, but most of it is focused on the weapons deal at hand. Things start to go south though when one of the gangsters recognizes someone from the other group as the guy who creeped on his sister a few nights back at a bar. That’s when the bullets start flying, and they don’t let up for the next hour or so of the film.
As much gunfire as there is, I wouldn’t really call FREE FIRE an action movie. It certainly has action in it, but the film is mostly a black-comedy. The characters are all horrible people for the most part, but some of them are the type of horrible people that are pretty funny too. Sharlto Copley is the standout in that area. He’s essentially playing Sharlto Copley again, but this time he wears an expensive suit that he’s overly concerned with. It’s probably the best performance in the movie.
I’ve seen a lot of Tarantino comparisons thrown around in reviews for FREE FIRE, and while there are some similarities – the dialogue, the music, the violence – Wheatley is never really trying to make these characters “cool” in any sense. I’ve always found Tarantino’s early gangster characters to be loveable scamps for the most part. These people are mostly just morons. FREE FIRE has a really good cast, and everybody does good work in it, but you never really care about any of these stupid and selfish characters, and I think that’s kind of the point.
I’ve also seen some talk about FREE FIRE being an anti-gun movie, but I’m not completely sure I buy that either. Like most of Director Ben Wheatley’s work, it seems to be more of an anti-human movie. The characters are all pretty rancid scumbags. Even Sharlto is a bit of an asshole; spending most of the movie trying to get other people to run through the gunfire and retrieve the money for him so that he doesn’t ruin his suit. Wheatey has built an amoral world in FREE FIRE, one where you’re not sure who is going to make it out alive, and also one where you’re not sure if it even matters.
The movie seems to make more of an argument in the vein of “Guns to don’t kill people, people kill people”. The guns are there the entire time, but it isn’t until the personal issues of the people involved begin to boil over that the gun violence begins. Guns certainly don’t help calm the matter though. The random, constant, gunfire turns people against people who start on their side, and over the course of the film it devolves into an everyone-for-themselves situation. I will say this though; if this movie would have been called “WILD STAB” or something, I really don’t think as many people would have died. Or maybe they would have. These people are really bad shots, honestly.
They are really bad shots in very close quarters too, as most of FREE FIRE takes place in a single, claustrophobic location. While there have been action elements in Wheatley’s past films – KILL LIST especially – FREE FIRE features the most action of any of them, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. The action – sometimes intentionally – is pretty sloppy, and there is never a proper sense of geography established in the movie. The movie does a pretty poor job of showing where each character is while the bullets are flying in the warehouse, and it hurts the movie in the long run. There are moments in FREE FIRE where it should feel like the walls are closing in on the characters, and the action and gunfire should be overwhelming, but those moments never come, and I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that it’s hard to tell where everyone is in relation to one another. The gunfire and violence in the film never feel overwhelming, and instead feel like more of an annoyance.
I think FREE FIRE ends up being more of an interesting exercise than a good film. It’s certainly a funny movie – with most of the humor coming in the form of pitch-black comedy – but the action elements let it down. It’s nice to see that Wheatley is still able to maintain his cynical, darkly humorous voice even when switching genres, but FREE FIRE is the first time where I felt like I was getting a bit tired of what he was saying. Much like the gunfire in FREE FIRE, there is only so much nihilistic bludgeoning one can take before it feels like more of a nuisance than a point.