It’s 1978. The Irish Revolution is in full swing and IRA soldiers Chris and Frank (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) are looking for weapons. They find a dealer in Boston through his sister (Armie Hammer and Brie Larson), who leads them both to a jittery South African named Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his partner Martin (Babou Ceesay).
Also along with this group is Frank’s obnoxious junkie brother-in-law Stevo (Chris Reiley) along with his pal Bernie (Enzo Cilenti). Just as the deal is about to be finalized, a spat erupting from a previous incident involving Stevo and Vernon’s driver Harry (Jack Reynor) results in shots being fired and mass chaos as the various members split off into a fight for survival.
Ben Wheatley’s “Free Fire” delivers pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: a non-stop gun battle mixed with a healthy dose of black humor. Given that it’s very clear what this will become, it takes it’s sweet time getting to the good part. A few of the characters, namely Steveo and Vernon, wear out their welcome rather quickly, though the others manage to stay charming and funny.
Quips fly almost as fast as the bullets, and there are some rather good jokes sprinkled throughout. Wheatley has a good command of action and space, although at times it can be a little difficult to determine where everyone is in relation to each other. Murphy, Hammer, and Larson all give wonderfully funny performances, as does Copley, giving their threadbare characters a reason for us to root for them.
Wheatley, previously known for the stylish satanic horror film “Kill List,” psychedelic historical genre-bender “A Field in England” and last year’s class satire “High Rise” (adapted from the J.G. Ballard novel), and screenwriter Amy Jump give the plot a little bit of a purpose as the participants try to escape. In addition, they attempt to keep things somewhat realistic by having all the characters eventually crawling due to bullet wounds (there will be no indestructable superhumans or infinite ammo clips here). It’s a welcome change that also delivers some of the best jokes in the film.
Though there’s not much substance to it, “Free Fire” is just a plain fun film to watch, once you get past a few of the more obnoxious characters. It may not get to the heights of some other locked-room movies from the past year or so (“Green Room” and “10 Cloverfield Lane” come to mind), it’s easy to get swept up in seeing Wheatley deal misfortune amongst criminals.