Free Fire: Bullets and banter

Photo courtesy of Film4 Productions/BFI/Rook Films/Protagonist Pictures/StudioCanal UK

8 out of 10

“Free Fire” follows two groups of people at an arms deal that quickly goes south and becomes one of the longest shootouts I’ve ever seen on film. It starts about a half hour into the film and really doesn’t end till the film itself ends. This hour-long shootout works largely on the strength of the cast and their chemistry, in addition to the film’s pacing.

Between Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, and Sharlto Copley, “Free Fire” simply has a great cast. Hammer is the stand out, which is saying something, because Copley is pretty much set loose to perform his particular brand of buffoonery. In spite of that, Hammer’s dry wit really carries many of the scenes, and a lot of the best laughs in the film come from his banter or antics. But that really brings me to the topic of what makes the film work, and that’s the chemistry between its characters. Everyone, including the supporting cast, work really well together. And, that’s always important in a film, but the bare bones nature of “Free Fire” really brings it to the forefront. And it works – some of the best moment of the film come when characters are shouting at each other over gunfire. It’s really strange that a film composed almost entirely of a gunfight would be so focused on its characters, but the interactions between them is really the most engaging thing in the film, and the film knows that.

“Free Fire” feels a lot like something Quentin Tarantino might’ve done early on in his career, and it’s really inevitable that it’ll be compared to “Reservoir Dogs.” Its heavy focus on its characters, its singular setting, and it beginning at the middle of the story are all things “Free Fire” shares with “Reservoir Dogs.” But ultimately it’s the focus of its storytelling that makes them decidedly different films. “Reservoir Dogs” is a mystery that we slowly unravel in flashback after flashback, but “Free Fire” isn’t nearly as interested in telling its story. Instead, it’s a lot more focused on having fun, whether that be through some comedic banter, violent slapstick humor, or just plain old violence. It’s certainly an entertaining film, but it doesn’t have the staying power of “Reservoir Dogs” that made it a classic.

The one place where “Free Fire” does falter is in its pacing. It does an amazing job of keeping itself entertaining and engaging over the course of an hour-long gunfight, but even with its best efforts it can’t avoid having a few lulls. They’re not horrible and they certainly aren’t anything resembling a deal breaker, but they did take me out of the scene to wonder how much longer the gunfight could go on for.