Review: ‘Free Fire’ Shoots All The Right Marks

Laura Cafasso ’18 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

To define a dark comedy, simply insert Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire into any conversation. Amidst all the rapid gunfire, blood, drug use, and obscenities, Wheatley’s venture with A24 still manages to create charismatic and unforgettable characters—that you even begin to root for despite the obvious immorality.

Set in the 1970s, the film begins with “Tweedledee” and “Tweedledum,” or Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), driving a small RV to an arms deal. Stevo is visually beaten up and clearly reckless, as Bernie scolds him for his unclarified lude behavior the night before. To calm down, Stevo does “smack” and they listen to John Denver the rest of the way to an abandoned Boston warehouse.

Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley, and Michael Smiley in Free Fire. Photo Credit: A24.
Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley, and Michael Smiley in Free Fire. Photo Credit: A24.

Waiting impatiently for them are two IRA agents, Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), and the go-between girl, Justine (Brie Larson). Tension is palpable, and the bumbling duo of Stevo and Bernie arrive just in time before tempers fully flare. Furious at his bruised face, Frank warns Stevo that this is his last shot at redemption—Stevo happens to be Frank’s daughter’s deadbeat, meandering husband. Sheepishly, Stevo and Bernie join the group as a mysterious intermediary, Ord (Armie Hammer), struts out of the fog. With a cool, effortless mystique, Ord brings the group into the warehouse to meet the weapon suppliers.

The standout of the film, Vernon (Sharlto Copley), enters the scene with his team, dressed in a plush periwinkle suit and a severe case of overconfidence—he was wrongly diagnosed as a child genius and never got over it, according to Justine. Immediately intimidated by Chris’ laid-back and silent confidence, Vernon overcompensates and belittles him for his Irishness and blossoming affection for Justine. To top it all off, Vernon has brought the wrong type of gun to the deal, angering Chris and Frank. Putting differences aside, the plan almost goes smoothly—until one of Vernon’s men, Harry (Jack Reynor) realizes that Stevo is the man he beat up for assaulting his seventeen-year-old cousin. The fight reignites, prompting sides to be drawn and bullets to blaze with purpose and abandonment.

Armie Hammer in Free Fire. Photo Credit: A24.
Armie Hammer in Free Fire. Photo Credit: A24.

Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley’s script is red hot with cutting comedic timing. Some of the best grumbles and whiny protests are saved for Vernon, who soon grows on even his own team’s nerves—like when he acts the most wounded when only his shoulder pad was shot. Stevo and Harry have the crudest comebacks, mostly directed at each other. Ord, who sits back and smokes pot during the majority of the action, is solid, but easily dispensable. Larson is almost brilliant as Justine but falls short with overacting—her constant panting and grunting from her gunshot wounds are more distracting than believable.

The soundtrack brings the gunfire to the forefront, making the audience squirm and react as if they’re caught in the chaotic crossfire. The rocking soundtrack is crafted by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, incorporating nostalgic beats by Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Real Kids, and irony with the mellow croon of John Denver.

Through the barrage of bullets and egos, Free Fire is an instant cult classic. It has potential to alienate conservative audiences with its gore, but is redeemable with its biting humor, making you forget about the amateur war zone on screen.

Overall Grade: A-

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