FREE FIRE (2017) is One Heck’uva Gun Control PSA

Free Fire feels almost too simple to review. It’s a very what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of movie, and that’s about 70 minutes of warehouse shootout action. Only the luckiest of the large ensemble cast of characters get a full personality trait to work with, and how long each lives is determined mainly by how charming the actor playing the character is, with Larson, Hammer, and Copely being the standouts. Regardless, Free Fire is just an incredibly fun movie. Though characters barely get personalities, they’re each given enough great one-liners to endear themselves, and the comic action of the shootout never drags. It also helps that Free Fire doesn’t stretch out its novelty, clocking in at a tight 90 minutes.

If nothing else, Free Fire is a masterclass in blocking and how to film and edit gunfights. Though you’ll likely forget the names of most of the dozen-or-so characters firing lead at each other, you’ll never be lost as to where they’re supposed to be.

And, for all I’ve complained about lack of character, the movie does use its ensemble well in creating interweaving subplots, breaking up the chaotic nature of the shootout into more digestible chunks, and to carefully manage the ratio of one-liners to bullets fired. Many of Free Fire‘s strongest jokes are delivered by characters off-screen reacting to the shots that other characters just made. The ensemble seems almost to be riffing on the movie as it happens, developing a series of in-jokes and call backs to go with their fresh grudges and constantly shifting loyalties.

The plot is as barebones as it needs to be. In a warehouse somewhere in America, sometime in the 70’s, an arms trade goes terribly wrong between Irish rebels and their arms dealers when one henchman on each side discovers they have beef with a henchman on the other, and nobody knows how to deescalate the situation. There are also two snipers in the warehouse, hired by someone, but that plot-point is eaten up by the same series of minor conflicts and further in-fighting that shapes the entire rest of the plot.

Before I run out of things to say about this movie, I’d be remiss not to mention the audio. The sound mixing is done so that every bullet fires is nearly as deafening as it would be in real life. And this goes a long way to actually grounding this farce. Once a character is shot, they stay down, and so much of this movie is watching this group of people shot all up and down each-other limp and crawl to the next available spot of cover or loose gun. None of these characters are particularly smart, but they know enough to realize they’re not in a movie where guns blazing will get you very far. Shots are fired one, two at a time, and none of the characters ever empty a whole clip at once lest they find themselves prematurely out of ammo. Despite being a farcical comedy, Free Fire might also be one of the most realistic depictions of gun violence in cinema, especially action cinema.

But it balances that groundedness with a healthy dose of the cartoonish. Though every character gets hurt in ways that will make you groan in empathy, they keep trying to stand up for more. The 70’s setting provides all the excuse needed to gussy up the cast in colorful wide-lapelled polyester suits, bad wigs, and worse facial hair, and a handful of characters are more distinguishable though heavy accents than any other quality. Free Fire could very well be considered an extra-long episode of Loony Toons where every character is Elmer Fudd, mistaking themselves to be Bugs Bunny.

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