Have you ever spent what felt like an eternity on something only to realize that time lost was relatively short? That’s exactly how you may feel after sitting through the recent “action” film Free Fire, bizarrely attributed to Executive Producer Martin Scorsese (in fact, he was just one of several but the only one with name recognition) — a credit he really should contest.
Free Fire opens with little to no explanation of what’s going on. As a viewer, you just have to put the pieces together — it takes place in the 1970s judging from the hair and costumes, it takes place in a warehouse supposedly in Boston but the city doesn’t seem all that important because of the different nationalities of the character involved. There is apparently some IRA connection to the Irish characters, but that is never fully explored or exploited so we’re never really sure why the film’s central plot — the sale of arms — is even relevant. The story brings together the Irish characters, played by Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley and Sam Riley, a South African (Sharlto Copley) and his entourage, and some American intermediaries (Brie Larson and Armie Hammer), and plops them down in an abandoned warehouse for the arms deal. But Copley’s character Vernon switches the weapons on his buyers which makes them very unhappy … but that doesn’t lead to the centerpiece gunfight. It’s Riley’s character Stevo who had been in an altercation the previous night with one of Vernon’s men (he “bottled” the guy’s sister, whatever that means) who fires the first shot. It could have just ended there but Stevo can’t help himself and he fires back, then it turns out everyone is armed and two-thirds of the film (about one full hour) is just a nonsensical gunfight between the groups, not to mention the appearance of some other snipers that get into the mix.
Free Fire offers very little in character development — okay, zero character development — as we just wait to see which character gets shot next. The problem is we just don’t care because there is no development and we have no emotional attachment to any of them. All the movie is is an excuse to fire guns for an hour in an enclosed space — yes, once everyone is in place, the setting never changes from that warehouse. It is certainly an interesting idea, but it becomes a bit tiring that after an hour you realize just what bad shots everyone is. The film does try to inject little bits of humor as some characters make a big deal out of being grazed and seeing their tailored suits ruined, but it really just becomes annoying and, something you never want to say about an action movie, boring as most of the characters are so wounded as things progress that all they can do is crawl across the floor to get to cover. I really, really disliked this movie. I had seen Armie Hammer on Jimmy Kimmel’s show chatting up the film and it seemed interesting and funny, but the finished product is anything but.
If you are so inclined to check out the movie on Blu-ray, the video presentation is fine although director Ben Wheatley seems to be trying to emulate what a film from the 70s would look like today after decades of film deterioration, so much of the movie has a yellowish hue to it (which is an artistic decision based on the footage seen in the featurette) that makes much of the detail hard to discern. It’s not really the fault of the video transfer but those who expect their HD video to be crystal clear may be disappointed. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is very lively, using a lot of panning effects across the spectrum as bullets whiz around the warehouse, and dialogue is crisp and clear even though some of it is hard to discern when several characters are talking over each other. The surrounds do also allow you to hear characters off screen talking from various points in the warehouse, so the mix does a great job but it also may have benefited from a 7.1 or Dolby Atmos upgrade.
The Blu-ray has two bonus features: a commentary track with director Wheatley and cast members Cillian Murphy and Jack Reynor, which may or may not be a nice addtion but I have no interest in rewatching the movie, and a Making of featurette that runs about 16 minutes. It’s the usual stuff with the cast chatting about the movie, but one of the points of interest shows how Wheatley set about to shoot the film in a single location and how he had an editing bay on set to edit while shooting. It was also interesting to know that the actors had to be on set every day, just in case a shot changed and they needed to be seen in the background. It was certainly an unorthodox and interesting way to make a movie, it’s just too bad Wheatley spent more time on his concept and not enough time on actually coming up with a decent script. Some may find Free Fire worth a look, but it may be a tough slog for most.
Lionsgate generously provided Hotchka with a Blu-ray of the film for reviewing purposes.