I do love me a good cinematic shoot-out. Ever since the Raven Bar gun-fight from ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981) , with it’s pitch-perfect editing and ground-breaking sound design*,…
*…seriously, go back and rewatch ‘Raiders’, volume it up little louder than it needs to be and then just LISTEN…and consider what the standard litany of movie and television sound effects in the late 70’s / early 80’s were, and how dull they were, especially gunfire and explosions. ‘Indiana Jones #1’, and the absolutely masterful ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979), changed the soundscape of movies forever, in my humble opinion. It really made me appreciate just how important spending the time and money on a robust sound design can be, which go a LONG way in helping reach a broader audience. A shitty-looking movie can be elevated and legitimized by a kick-ass mix…!
…I’ve been a fan of well staged, slickly edited, and great-sounding gun fights and action scenes. Which is good…considering that this flick is almost entirely THAT.
Taking place in a rundown industrial area outside of Boston, circa 1978, we first meet a rogue’s gallery of up-to-no-good characters. Brie Larson (‘Kong: Skull Island’) plays ‘Justine’, a ‘middle man’ for two IRA operatives, ‘Chris’ (Cillian Murphy) and ‘Frank’ (Michael Smiley) who are in town to score a consignment of assault rifles for The Cause from a shifty South African arms dealer named ‘Vernon’ (Sharlto Copley), with the entire transaction happening under the assured direction of ‘Ord’ (Armie Hammer), an imposing and suave ‘fixer’; who ‘s rocking a killer 70’s beard and a tendency to light doobies in the middle of gunfights. When tension between two goons from opposing sides boils over, a tense, violent, and often amusing ‘cat n mouse’ game of ‘Hide n Shoot’ breaks out among the dilapidated remains of an old factory.
I didn’t really go into ‘Free Fire’ with any real expectations, despite knowing a bit about Director Ben Wheatley and having (mostly) enjoyed his dark thriller ‘Kill List’, from 2011…but nothing else. But working in it’s favor was the fact that I’m a sucker for movies, thrillers and action flicks, that figure out how to get the most out of one primary location. Titles like ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1992), ‘Phone Booth’ (2002), ‘Panic Room’ (2002), and ‘Armored’ (2009) are my jam, so the ‘one setting’ premise was already working for me. Add to that, the limited ad campaign definitely held the promise of a lot of gunfire and one-liners, and on a grey and dreary Sunday afternoon, I wandered into a cinematic gun fight.
In that respect, the trailers certainly didn’t lie. There is a ton of gunfire and it was great! Especially since this movie comes with a sound design that packs some serious ‘Ooommph!’. Holy shit!…the first time a gun is fired, ANY drowsiness I MAY have felt was instantly shattered away and I was wide awake. The gunfire and bullet hit / ricochet effects sounded AWESOME! There’s almost a fetishistic quality to the effort put into this aspect of the movie…and I was A-OK with that! This will be a good one to use to set up a 5 or 7.1 Surround Sound System, when it hits the Home Market.
While I can easily compare this to past movies like ‘Reservoir Dogs’ and ‘Armored’, there was also a sense of humor to the material that distinctly reminded me of Guy Ritchie’s earlier work, particularly ‘Snatch’ (2000), in that dramatic and violent shit was on display, but was underscored by witty quips and ridiculous scenarios of a darkly comedic nature. That was very much the score here. If this had somehow been part of Ritchie’s earlier filmography, I wouldn’t have been surprised in the slightest.
If I had to dredge up Negatives, I would say that there was a few sequences where I was finding myself unsure of the geography of the fight. A couple more ‘wide’ angle shots over-looking the changes in the carnage would’ve gone a long way. There were times when all you had was quick-cutting shots of characters popping up or scrambling along in the dust and garbage, while loudly capping off rounds at…something. We’d see hits and ricochet’s, but with no solid sense of their placement in the fight. Sounded great though. People could also say that there could’ve been more characterization, but for the lean, to-the-point story the movie was telling, what we got was enough for me. Brie Larson was OK, but ‘Justine’ could’ve been played by anyone. She did a serviceable job…and looked sexy doing it. Cillian Murphy, as to be expected, was solid, despite his horrendous mustache and I love Armie Hammer’s refined, ‘professional’ pot-head, ‘Ord’. Sharlto Copley is another actor who can be relied upon to the delivered the goods, and this was no exception. He was hilarious as the unhinged ‘Vernon’, managing to effectively come across as a goofy but dangerous spazz. All characters had their moments, and it worked out well…in my opinion.
All in all, ‘Free Fire’ was a nice ‘turn off the brain’ action / comedy that boasted equally workable servings of humor and violence, all set in a single location that was carried along on a slick undercurrent of 70’s grime. It’s a movie that left me feeling like I needed a shower when the credits rolled…and I mean that as a compliment. There are jokes and sight gags…but there’s also gunshots to the face and a cranium-meets-rolling-truck tire scene that showed more than I expected. You don’t REALLY need to seek this one out in the theatre…but if you’re a fan of BIG SOUND to go with your gunfights and wise cracks…then you’ll get your fair share with this one. But if you do opt to wait for it’s eventual and inevitable Home Release, which I can easily recommend…just turn it up just a little louder than it needs to be. That’ll get the neighbours attention!