Free Fire (2017)

“I’m in it for myself.”

Just because your movie is titled Free Fire and that its tagline is “All guns. No control.” doesn’t mean the picture can/should be made without minimal restraint or maximum oversight. And yet that appears to have become Ben Wheatley’s trademark style of choice. It’s not abject filmmaking by any means – Wheatley certainly is competent behind the camera – but his movies lambast cross-cultures and attack themes without first investing in the people. Free Fire is all chaos and no theory, refusing to shine a light on the value of character development over baseless and nameless individuals shooting guns and making wisecracks and souring like grapes on a dead vine.

Free Fire goes for max effort in combining elements from two classic films. The first is Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir DogsThat movie took Sundance by storm way back in ’91, signaling a burgeoning talent to be reckoned with. Its dialogue is predictably memorable and unique, said by abstract men, all told in a nonlinear fashion. By comparison, Wheatley’s dialogue often feels quite forced and irrelevant, the characters too broadly mismatched, and the overall story utterly predictable. And because it chooses the linear approach – we’re never consumed by or concerned with what’s behind all of the insanity or why they can’t simply find the exits – Free Fire comes across like a film school student who just watched Luis Buñuel’s 1962 surrealistic satire The Exterminating AngelBuñuel’s picture somehow allows for a broadly specific interpretation of social constraints in a historical context, whereas Wheatley holds his high-caliber class hostage in a lull of masochistic bedlam.

Although none of the characters leave enough of an imprint for me to boorishly list out all of their names, this cast is still enormous in both its size and the respective talent involved, with a few really inhabiting these caricatures. There’s another winning performance from Sharlto Copley with his shrill delivery and wise-ass persona. On the heels of her Oscar win, Brie Larson looks to be having fun, bringing her hard intensity counterbalanced with just enough charm. The real winning pony of the bunch is Armie Hammer though, showcasing a knack for dry and deadly humor through unfounded cockiness (even throwing a nod to Taratino via the director’s extensive personal use of the peace sign). I’m not sure how so many solid performances maintain their heads above water when Free Fire’s story is so inclined to drown in a dull excess.

If you want to watch a film as choreographed and reckless as the WWE’s infamous “Money in the Bank” ladder match, then happily hang yourself up at the shooting range and let Free Fire pull the trigger. You won’t be disappointed. But if you want a film with motivation, with depth, or with anything outside of a selfish and solipsistic soul, please look elsewhere. Wheatley’s movie impersonates situations while forgetting to develop the people, allowing the picture to be so over-edited that the time and the place are mere abstractive narrative backdrops rather than integral story components. We know the bullets are going to fly by the end, and the worry with Free Fire is that you never give a shit about who catches a slug to the chest or who goes up in flames.

“I’m not good with names.”

Rating: 2 out of 5

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