★ ★ ★ ★
The worst part of writing reviews is regurgitating the synopsis. Perhaps that’s one of the reason I liked “Free Fire,” the new shoot-em-up from director Ben Wheatley, so much. His follow-up to the psycho sci fi movie “High Rise” can be described with an economy of words: Ten bad people meet, a grudge emerges, bullet fly. The End.
For those craving more detail, the story begins at a rundown warehouse in Boston with Irish Republican Army out-of-towners Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) and their henchmen Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley) buying thirty rifles from Vernon (Sharlto Copley). Vernon’s team includes Martin (Babou Ceesay), Gordon (Noah Taylor) and Harry (Jack Reynor). Bringing them together are Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer) fixers who stand to make mucho bucks.
The deal goes south, however, when a beef erupts between Stevo and Harry. Words, then punches and finally bullets are exchanged as the situation spins out of control. Soon it’s every man or woman for himself or herself as everyone exchanges bullets and barbs.
The gun battle makes up the bulk of the film but this is no average bullet ballet. Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump carefully calibrate the action, mixing gunfire with sharp dialogue and plenty of irreverent, dark humour. Their best trick is keeping it real. When people get shot in “Free Fire” they don’t shake it off like most action movie characters. Instead they shriek, whine, wince and in pain, putting the strong silent type clichés of most first person shooters in the rear view mirror. As the situation grows more desperate so do the characters as they struggle to stay alive long enough to grab the elusive suitcase filled with cash, settle old scores and trade schoolyard taunts.
It’s hard not to see echoes of “Reservoir Dogs” in “Free Fire.” The warehouse setting and sketchy characters suggest Tarantino but Wheatley has done something else here. He’s packed away all pretension, all sentiment and focussed on making a down-‘n-dirty but wildly entertaining b-movie.