You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

breaking news

House approves controversial change to ‘sanctuary cities’ bill

Intricate, hyperviolent ‘Free Fire’ makes bloodshed fun again


You know what they say about men and guns. The longer the rifle, the … well, you finish that however you please. Ben Wheatley’s stylish and adrenaline-soaked shootout flick “Free Fire,” which screened at South by Southwest in March, also lets you draw your own conclusions about toxic masculinity. It also draws blood. So very much blood — 7,000 bullets’ worth, in fact.

Without spoiling the central conceit of the film too much — because it’s worth it to mutter “WHAT IN THE NAME OF MARTIN SCORSESE IS HAPPENING HERE” to yourself organically — the British director’s wry, sometimes slapstick action comedy concerns an arms deal gone bad very quickly and very hyperbolically.

In 1970s Boston, “in it for myself” Justine (Brie Larson, quietly suffering fools but also visibly rolling her eyes) brokers an arms deal between two gangs in a wrecked warehouse. On the gun-buying side, IRA operative Chris (a noble and surprisingly uncreepy Cillian Murphy) and his associates, including a raw-nerved and recently jumped junkie (Sam Riley). On the gun-running side, flamboyant boss Vernon (“District 9”’s Sharlto Copley, having a hoot as a flamingo who thinks he’s a hawk but who’s really a turkey), smooth-talking Ord (Armie Hammer, visibly in the throes of an endorphin rush) and their partners. When an unfortunate and unrelated coincidence leads to gunfire for noncommercial reasons, a madcap ensemble shootout ensues.

If that makes you think of “Reservoir Dogs” or “Pulp Fiction,” it’s no stretch of the imagination that Quentin Tarantino and Wheatley watched a few of the same movies growing up. Technically speaking, “Free Fire” is a Swiss timepiece spinning until its hands fly off. The cast spends most of its time crawling and rolling and scooting behind crates and rubble, hobbled by bullets and any number of gory indignities. It’s a cartoonishly bloody ballet with constantly rising stakes and continually bruising egos, though sometimes at the expense of clear motivation. One can only imagine what the set looked like from above during filming.

Wheatley, for his part, confirmed during an audience Q&A alongside Hammer and Copley at SXSW that the blocking was a well-considered affair, despite any illusions of control cast members like Hammer might have had.

Speaking of Hammer, he’s made a career out of playing hunks of varying preppiness. He’s never been better served than here as an affably arm-draping bear of a bohemian, simultaneously above the rat-infested world he moves in but equally capable of holding his own within it. Larson, who looks so very at home in Cheryl Ladd finery, is criminally underserved, though. One could read that as a metatextual statement on fiercely intelligent women forced to look out for No. 1 in a system run by insecure cavemen with itchy trigger fingers. That might be too charitable to the script. She shines amid grime, but would it have killed Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump to throw her a little scenery to gnaw on, too?

It’s Copley, odious and charismatic, who steals the show, which is obviously the point of casting Sharlto Copley in your hyper-stylized shoot-em-up. Guy Ritchie wishes he had him in his stable. Copley, in the tackiest suit ever tailored, swans about in (mostly) impotent rage, hiding a nigh unstoppable drive that leads to one scene straight out of a horror movie.

Wheatley at one point compared his characters to Sgt. Rock’s Easy Company, a motley crew of 1960s DC Comics soldiers, and said he would be game to direct a movie about the good sergeant. After a dangerously fun game of checkers like “Free Fire,” a ragtag comic book war game seems like a natural progression.

If the film has a glaring flaw, it is in the chaos that it so gleefully embraces. The endpoint of the melee is constantly obscured. Is it the money? Escape? Victory? Revenge? Making a well-timed phone call? Keeping senses of masculinity fully intact? It’s easy to hand-wave but makes for a plot with a few hollow bones. Similarly lost in the frenzy are the characters’ relationships, including a burgeoning flirtation between Larson and Murphy that only seems important when the script tells us it should be. Also lost: a couple entire characters, truth be told.

The head-spinning is ultimately worth it. As an entry in the genre canon, “Free Fire” rides its inventive premise into the sunset with snarky sadism and plenty of disco-era hair and flair. When boys love their toys a little too much, someone always loses an eye.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Movies & TV

The rustic French dessert that one-ups a pancake - and it's healthful
The rustic French dessert that one-ups a pancake - and it's healthful

Like some French-country dishes, a clafoutis (klah-foo-TEE) sounds like something fancy and complicated, but it's actually homey and easy to make. The fruit-laden dessert pancake is elegant in its simplicity - glorious, golden brown and sugar dusted. And nearly all it entails is making a basic pancake batter, pouring it into a pie dish, adding the...
Jeff Goldblum reprising original role as brash mathematician in ‘Jurassic World 2’
Jeff Goldblum reprising original role as brash mathematician in ‘Jurassic World 2’

  A familiar face is returning for the latest installment in the “Jurassic Park” franchise. Actor Jeff Goldblum, played the brash mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm in 1993’s “Jurassic Park” and its sequel in 1997 “The Lost World,” and has now has signed on for “Jurassic World 2,” according to the ...
Qui returns to his roots with Kuneho
Qui returns to his roots with Kuneho

A wafer of toast tilted like an oversized painter’s beret atop supple bubble-gum-colored salmon cooked sous vide to a buttery finish ($6). A dollop of creme fraiche held baubles of smoked salmon roe and a teeny slice of pickled radish in place. Notes of salt and sea. The pop of roe, the crunch of toast, the slow melting of the fish as you take...
After a decade of pop-punk and indie success, Andrew McMahon brings the ghosts of his past to Austin
After a decade of pop-punk and indie success, Andrew McMahon brings the ghosts of his past to Austin

You probably know who Andrew McMahon is, but you don’t know you know who he is. You’ve heard his songs—they’re the kind of songs that a middle school friend would have burned onto a mix CD they shared with you, or that a high school crush would have played in their car while you sat together in their driveway, not...
Stephen Colbert’s Alex Jones parody has his own Twitter account
Stephen Colbert’s Alex Jones parody has his own Twitter account

You might have already heard of “skeleton wrapped in angry meat” Tuck Buckford, aka Stephen Colbert’s new satirical take on Infowars broadcaster (and Austin resident) Alex Jones. You might not know that Tuck has his own Twitter account. <div></div><br><blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><...
More Stories