Action-comedy is a genre that walks a fine line; too far in one direction and the other can falter. The result is either a funny movie with some action or an action movie with some cheesy one liners. Recent movies like Kingsmen: The Secret Service or Kick-Ass are prime examples of the perfect blend of entertaining action and hearty laughs. That sometimes can work or be a misfire, but those elements culminate in a perfect blend for Ben Wheatley’s latest directorial effort Free Fire.
Set in Boston in 1978, a mysterious woman and her colleague arrange for an arms deal in a deserted warehouse. Tension quickly mounts as an uneasy exchange erupts into violent game of survival where it’s every man for himself.
Ben Wheatley (High-Rise) has crafted a really fun film with Free Fire. All of the action unfolds in one location, the abandoned warehouse. Without having to focus on every detail that comes with a new set, Wheatley is able to focus on forging some memorable characters with witty dialogue that does not feel too cheesy. The film felt reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 film Reservoir Dogs. The third act may not come to a head in a brilliant and bloody climax like Tarantino most always, but the action is impressively choreographed and paired with warehouse exploring cinematography make for a great genre piece. Every character motivation in this tense situation is clear, and every arc is coherent into their brilliant conclusions.
The cast is the standout aspect of this film, and it is stacked with talent. Every performance adds to the film and provides a standout moment for the each character in the film without overshadowing another. Recent Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room) proves she can hang with the boys right out the gate, pulling out the same stunts as her male counterparts with ease and noticeably more grace. Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) portrays an arms buyer for the IRA and proves himself to be a more than competent actor, almost pulling ahead into leading man from what feels like a pretty level playing field in this movie. Armie Hammer (The Social Network), Sharlto Copley (District 9), and Sam Riley (Maleficent) are few other standouts in a cast of wild cards who fill out the deck without making it seem loaded.
The way the action unfolds on screen is one of the highlights of the film. It is easy for the space within a scene to get lost in a thousand cuts during the edit, but that’s not a problem here. The choreography and cinematography work in tandem to place these characters logically throughout the warehouse, since it is easy to lose who is where during the firefight. The camerawork explores the warehouse well, going from an expansive battlefield on which the skirmish unfolds down to the claustrophobic confines of one man chasing another down a decrepit hallway.
One fault Free Fire has it with it’s pacing. The squabble between every characters starts at the end of the first act and continues on until the last minutes of the film. After awhile the film gets bogged down in characters screaming from their wounds and scurrying around prone on the floor avoiding each other’s sight. Some of these moments are great and contain brilliant exchanges between the characters, but after a few several scenes feel interchangeable with one another. With the runtime being an hour and a half on the dot, repetition can make a short film feel much longer and that is not necessarily a good thing.
All and all, Free Fire is a really fun action-comedy film. The cast is spectacular and gives each character an equal share of the spotlight. The direction allows for all the other elements of production to give this film the framework it needs to shine. The action is fun and made light-hearted by the laughter without getting dragged down by cheesy one-liners. Pacing issues aside, Ben Wheatley’s newest film is definitely worth seeing.