SXSW: “Free Fire” misses the mark

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of A24 Films | Daily Texan Staff

British filmmaker Ben Wheatley’s latest film, “Free Fire,” brings nine gunslinging criminals, a “bird” and 7,000 bullets to the U.S. big screen in a comedic yet ineffective ode to 1970s thrillers.

The plot opens with Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley), two junkies who have been hired by Irish Republican operatives Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) as muscle for their upcoming gun deal.

Stevo is bruised up from an altercation the night before, but he’s forced to pull himself together when the crew comes face-to-face with eccentric arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley), ex-Panther and associate Martin (Babou Ceesay), Gordon (Noah Taylor), and Harry (Jack Reynor).

In the middle of it all are witty middleman Ord (Armie Hammer) and fixer Justine (Brie Larson) who organized the meet up between the two parties.

As expected of a movie featuring a multitude of assault rifles, the tension is immediate, and Wheatley does a solid job of ensuring everyone can feel it. Temperamental Vernon is offended by Chris’ accusations of him bringing the wrong guns, and soon, it’s revealed that Harry was the one who gave Stevo the bruised eye he’s been nursing. Even though it’s apparent bullets will start flying, Wheatley manages to create a slow, dramatic build up to the first shot, and afterwards a quick-paced battle where everyone is nursing at least one wound.

Though the first half of the movie is entertaining through Wheatley’s usage of borderline cartoonish comedy and intense action, the second half drags on. The single room setting does little for the development of the movie because there isn’t a developed narrative to follow. After the initial excitement of the shoot-out wears off, there isn’t much left for viewers to see except well, more shooting.

Even more uneventful might be Larson’s character. Larson plays the only female in the entire film yet her character blends in the background behind the men. There are few stand out moments where she delivers an especially powerful performance or where she isn’t being shielded by Chris. The ending reveal pertaining to Larson’s character also felt like a forced element of surprise, almost as if Wheatley was trying too hard to shock viewers.

“Free Fire” has a plethora of big guns, from Larson to Wheatley, but none of them seem to be at their best. The film is entertaining and delivers on laughs, but ultimately it has nothing else to offer besides that.

“Free Fire”

Runtime: 90 minutes

Rating: 3/5 stars