A weapons deal goes south when two of the lowest men on the organizational depth chart go full wakka-wakka-garbanzo-beans nuts.
The result is a one-act setup and an hour of what might be described as Tex Avery directing Quentin Tarantino action sequences.
The film opens with Stevo (Sam Riley, SS-GB) and Bernie (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell) driving an RV whose bad days have had better days. Stevo is twitchy and takes a hit of heroin to steady his nerves.
In a warehouse (could be any warehouse in the Excited States), parties are coming together to do a weapons deal – the buyers, a group from the IRA and a group that are selling – plus Justine (Brie Larson, Room), who brokered the deal.
The IRA guys are Chris (Cillian Murphy, Peaky Blinders) and Frank (Michael Smiley, Luther); the sellers are Vernon (Sharlto Copley, Powers, Hardcore Henry), Ord (Armie Hammer, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) and Martin (Babou Ceesay, Guerilla, National Treasure).
Vernon’s group have brought along Harry (Jack Reynor, Sing Street) and Gordon (Powers, Preacher) to unload the guns from their much more reasonable red van.
When Bernie and Stevo arrive, we learn they are there solely to pack up the guns after the sale is completed. Unfortunately, the higher-than-a-kite Stevo recognises Harry as the guy who beat him up the night before – and when Harry recognises Stevo, the two fly of the handle and BAM!
Everything goes to hell in the proverbial handbasket.
The first twenty to thirty minutes of Free Fire gives us a little time to get to know the main players a bit – not a lot, but enough to establish that there ‘good guys’ (in the Hail! Well Met! Sense) and utter idiots on both sides. And, considering Justine, also in the middle.
First fists fly; than a length of wood and, finally, guns (including the demo model of the weapons deal).
You know the big finish in a lot crime movies? The big shootout? Well, once we get to know our crews a bit, that’s the rest of the movie.
Director and co-write Ben Wheatley (A field in England, High-Rise) and co-writer Amy Jump (A field in England, High-Rise) have gone ultra-meta on the conventions of crime movies by reversing the proportions of calm and violence.
There comes a point – about halfway into the violence – when, suddenly, there are two more shooters (Patrick Bergin and Mark Monero) who drop in seemingly out nowhere and are the topic of some harried conversation as bullets fly.
There’s every kind of violence you could ask for in a crime/action movie – fists, bludgeons of one sort or another, guns (from pistols to AK-40s) and even a fire and an explosion.
There are quips and weird moments (as when one of the lowlier participants mourns the death of his buddy while others mock him for whining) scattered throughout.
The overall effect is like a cartoon that’s happening in the ‘real’ world. Everything is heightened – a bullet graze prompts an epically over-the-top response, while actual wounds seem to cause a bit of cursing and stoic armed responses – or, at times, the other way around.
Logic and physics go out the door in a rush, but each successive burst of violence moves the film farther from appalling and closer to demented genius.
It never quite reaches the level of demented genius, but it comes close enough to warrant the Tex Avery/Quentin Tarantino idea.
If you’ve had a crappy day and just want to punch someone, see Free Fire instead. It could be quite cathartic.
If you just want to see a film that understands that the way movies use violence is a bit looney, Free Fire takes a shot at that, too.
Movies are supposed to be an experience. When you come out a theater feeling like you’ve had a real experience, a good movie has done its job.
Free Fire does its job.
Final Grade: A-