Have you ever walked into a movie so positive there’s no way it could disappoint you because of how awesome the trailers were? I have. Twice. First with last year’s Suicide Squad and now unfortunately this year with Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, a movie that has no idea what it’s trying to do.
The film begins promisingly enough with a 70’s retro style opening credits. However, once the dialogue gets going, the film begins to falter. The films biggest issue is that it’s not half as funny as it would have you believe. “Jokes” are made frequently but only about half land, and when they do it’s often only because the cast is so stellar that they’re able to salvage something from a poor script. Other than the obviously poor writing, another reason the humor often falls flat is that the film feels like it doesn’t realize it’s trying to be funny. The punchline to many of these jokes would be the reaction to them, but the film so quickly cuts away from characters as they speak and there’s no sense of visual or musical cue to laugh that it’s sometimes difficult to tell if what just happened was supposed to be funny or not.
The plot itself is also fairly ridiculous, and doesn’t come close to justifying the film’s “free fire.” The inciting incident revolves around a surprisingly graphic crime committed by someone who has already been established is unimportant. This crime committed before the film starts happens to affect someone on the other side of this arms deal who has also been established is on the bottom of the totem pole. Yet, this dispute leads all parties into the films titular “free fire.” Between Reservoir Dogs and The Hateful 8, Quentin Tarantino has given a master class twice in how to make completely gripping films mostly isolated to a singular area, but unfortunately Ben Wheatley is no Tarantino, though it’s obvious he wants to be. The film lacks a plot interesting enough to keep the viewers attention, and the lack of consistent dialogue leads the audience to a sense of fatigue far before the films end. Tonally, it’s all over the place, varying from graphic and serious with only bits of humor, to nearly insultingly goofy. Wheatley uses music sparingly, but when he does it can be so odd and bizarre that I was left wondering what in the world I was watching.
The direction is mostly good during the action with some pretty entertaining camera work throughout. Wheatley’s movement of the camera and the way he cuts his action somehow both draws attention to and makes the audience forget about the confined area the movie is kept to. He makes sure that the closeness the entire movie is kept in works in the movies favor and not its detriment.
Apart from some direction that’s admirable enough, the only real reason to watch is for the cast. While all do well with what they’re given, it’s Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copely as Ord and Vernon respectively that truly shine. Both are interesting characters and are played with so much charisma and charm that they make this whole affair worth watching. Unfortunately, they just deserved a better film to exist in. Certain characters don’t work very well in the film, though, and their inclusion just feels odd. Sam Riley as Stevo is so vile a character that you can’t help but wonder they had to make his crimes and behavior actually this deplorable, given that it certainly doesn’t help the humor of the film. And Brie Larson, like in Kong, does an admirable acting job with what she’s given, but the films treatment of her character is just incredibly odd.
Unfortunately, I must declare Free Fire to be insane. The film can be fun and does have some jokes that are legitimately funny. Unfortunately, those moments of humor and great characters like Ord and Vernon aren’t enough to save Free Fire from a bad script and action that goes on far too long. Here’s hoping Wheatley improves next time.