Boston. 1978. A small crime gang led by the relentlessly unforgiving Frank (Michael Smiley) wait patiently outside of an abandoned warehouse. With him are Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Justine (Brie Larson), brought on to assist in an off-the-books illegal gun sale between a rival gang. This second gang is led by the charismatic, untrusting (and untrustworthy) Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his associate Martin (Babou Ceesay). They’ve brought the guns, Frank’s brought the money, but there’s just one problem. They’re the wrong guns. Ord (Armie Hammer) has been brought on to ensure nothing goes wrong, but not even he can’t stop what’s coming next.
Free Fire takes a while to find its footing. The opening scenes, while necessarily to establish the characters and their relations to one another, are hit and miss. Some moments work really well, especially the introduction to Armie Hammer’s character, but others fall flat. They’re not boring, nothing in this film is, but they never hit as hard as they should. The film boasts an extremely large cast, featuring the likes of not only the actors already mentioned, but also Jack Reynor, Noah Taylor, Sam Riley and a handful of others. Everyone collides in this outrageous, unhinged and thoroughly entertaining film that, once it gets going, there’s just no stopping it. From when the tension first arises, and after the initial bullet is shot, everything that follows is a chaotic, blood-filled joy to watch unfold.
Amidst the violence, however, it’s easy to get lost in the carnage. Characters disappear for short periods of time, while others miraculously come back to life over and over. It may be confined to a single room, but working out who’s working with who can be quite the challenge. Everyone’s scattered, with no defining alliances, and while that’s good for dramatic purposes, I never knew what anyone was up to. Still, Whitley’s direction almost redeems that, armed with some killer cinematography. Creativity is a must for a film such as this one, and Whitley sure knows how to maneuver a camera. There’s an elegance and beauty to his compositions, constantly able to surprise me and do something different with his material.
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