Wednesday, May 31, 2017

It Came From The Cineplex: Free Fire

I've gotten a bit behind on movie reviews here at Bob Canada's BlogWorld, so I'm gonna try and get caught up in the next few days. I saw this movie several weeks ago and it's long gone from theaters, but I sat through the goddamned thing so you're all gonna share my pain!

Free Fire was written by Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley, and directed by Ben Wheatley.

Jump previously wrote High-Rise, while Wheatley wrote Down Terrace. The two of them collaborated on Kill List and A Field In England.

Wheatley previously directed Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers, A Field In England and High-Rise. He also directed two episodes of Doctor Who: Deep Breath and Into The Dalek.


Free Fire asks the cinematic question, "Is It Possible To Film A Movie That's Basically A Ninety Minute-Long Shootout?" The answer is yes. Yes it is. Although I'm not sure just why anyone would want to.

Actually I'm exaggerating a bit here. The film clocks in at ninety minutes, but the action doesn't begin until the twenty eight minute mark, so the shootout lasts for sixty two minutes. The action plays out pretty much in real time, in a single location.

Take the violence of Reservoir Dogs, toss in characters from a Guy Ritchie film and cross it all with a Looney Tunes cartoon and you'll have an idea what this film's like. If the idea of  unrepentant thugs shooting one another for comedic effects piques your interest, then this is the movie for you. Otherwise you're gonna have a rough time.

It's an interesting experiment, but unfortunately there's little or no substance. The ten main characters are painted in the broadest strokes possible, as we learn little about them other than their names. The closest we get to an actual character is Vernon, but even in his case all we know is that he's a hot-headed, foul-mouthed, misogynist jerk.


Additionally, the characters are ALL remorseless assholes, giving the audience no one to root for. As a result of this, it's impossible to care about any of the characters when they're killed off, making the whole film nothing more than a cold, clinical lab experiment.

Free Fire reportedly had a budget of $7 million, which seems awfully high for a film like this. If that figure's true, most of it must have gone to the actors, with the rest being used to buy bullet squibs and fake blood.

After a month in theaters, the film could only manage to rack up an embarrassing $1.8 million dollars. Ouch! It was in 1,070 theaters too, so it's not like it only played on the indie circuit. Blame this on the film's non-existent marketing campaign. I never saw a single trailer for the film and didn't even know it was playing until the day I saw it.

SPOILERS!

The Plot:
I'm gonna try something a bit different here there're a ton of characters in this movie and they all just have common, everyday first names. This makes it virtually impossible to remember who everyone is and which side they're on. So I'm gonna color code the names to try and make it easier to remember who's on what team.

Boston, the late 1970s. Two low level thugs, Stevo and Bernie, are driving to a meeting at an abandoned warehouse. Bernie notices that Stevo's face is bruised and battered, and asks what happened. He says he was beaten the night before by the cousin of a woman he propositioned. They arrive at the warehouse, where they meet their cousins Chris (played by Cillian Murphy) and Frank, two IRA members who are looking to buy weapons and take them back to Ireland.

The group is approached by Justine (played by Brie Larson), who'll serve as the intermediary between the groups, and Ord (played by Armie Hammer) who I guess set up the meeting. 
Ord takes the group inside, where they meet with Vernon (played by Sharlto Copley) and his associates, Martin, Harry and Gordon. See, I told you there's a lot of names to keep track of.

Vernon unveils the weapons, and Chris complains they're not the ones they agreed on. Tensions rise until Justine calms everyone down. Chris agrees to buy the guns, and orders his group to load the cases of weapons into his van. He hands a briefcase of money to Vernon, who hands it to Martin to count.

Stevo notes that Harry (one of Vernon's men) is the one who beat him the night before, and tries to act inconspicuous. Harry notices him, and reveals that Stevo didn't "proposition" his cousin as he said, but beat her so severely she was hospitalized. Harry lashes out at him, raising tensions between the groups again. Vernon demands that Stevo apologize, and Chris orders him to do so. Stevo apologizes, but Harry doesn't think it sounds sincere. Stevo then begins bragging about what he did, and Harry shoots him in the shoulder.

All hell then breaks loose, as the two sides split up and start firing wildly inside the confines of the warehouse. Ord crouches calmly behind the van, staying out of it. EVERY member of the cast is shot at least once as they all scramble for cover. Martin, who was holding the briefcase, is shot in the head and collapses. Vernon sees the case lying in the open, and tries to force one of his men to crawl out and get it.

Bernie's shot in the back by Harry, and dies. Suddenly shots ring out from the rafters, as two snipers fire on both groups. Ord kills one of the snipers and wounds the other. He recognizes the wounded sniper as Howie, a man he knows. Howie says he was hired by someone to kill everyone in the warehouse and take the money. Just as he's about to reveal who hired him, he's shot dead by someone from Chris' group.

Chris, who flirted with Justine earlier, yells to Vernon to let her leave unharmed. He agrees, as Gordon crawls along the floor after her. More gun play erupts, as pretty much everyone is shot in the arm. leg or shoulder a few more times (!).

Suddenly everyone hears a phone ringing in an upstairs office, and they all realize they can call for backup. Chris sends Frank to the office, and Vernon crawls after him. Gordon catches up to Justine, but she manages to kill him. Another fire fight breaks out, as everyone's shot a few more times. Vernon crawls upstairs as well. Frank pours gasoline under a door and lights it, engulfing Vernon in flames. As he tries to put himself out, Frank reaches the phone and answers it, but finds it's just a recorded message saying he's won a lifetime supply of something. Vernon then kills Frank.

Martin, who was shot in the head, suddenly regains consciousness. He's out of his head though (literally!) and begins firing wildly, shooting at his own group. He yells that the snipers were working for him as he picks up the briefcase. He then keels over and dies for good this time.

Chris sneaks past Ord and Harry and crawls up to the office, where he kills Vernon. He grabs the phone to call for backup, but Ord cuts the line. Justine takes a rifle from one of the dead snipers.

Harry takes the briefcase and painfully crawls into the van, attempting to get away. Stevo sees him and begins firing at the van. Harry's hit several more times, but manages to run over Stevo's head before he dies. The fire causes the sprinklers to come on. Ord and Chris run out of ammo and call a truce, agreeing to wait for the police to arrive.

Suddenly Justine appears and shoots Ord in the head, accidentally hitting Chris as well. As he lays dying, he tells her he's sorry they didn't get to know one another and go out for a drink. Justine limps toward the exit with the money, but stops as she hears police sirens outside...

Thoughts:
 As I said above, I blame the A24 Marketing Department for this film's dismal box office performance. Apparently they couldn't afford to promote it much, and on the rare occasion when they did, they obviously didn't know how to sell it. This resulted in a horribly schizophrenic ad campaign. Is it an action movie? A dark comedy? A Guy Ritchie-esque gangster film? A Reservoir Dogs wannabe?

The trailer apparently thinks it's a zany comedy about bad people who constantly argue and comically shoot one another to make a point, and sells that concept hard. Unfortunately while there are humorous elements to the movie, it's nowhere near as wacky as the trailer suggests.

Even the poster's confused. If it wasn't for the fact that they're all pointing guns at one another, this could be a poster for a goddamned Disney movie!

 Kudos to director Ben Wheatley, who somehow figured out a way to keep a sixty two minute gunfight interesting. Wheatley expertly choreographs the shootout, alternating the frenetic action with strategically placed lulls. 

Wheatley also makes excellent use of the movie's space. Ninety eight percent of the film takes place inside an abandoned warehouse, which could have gotten old really quickly. Fortunately this doesn't happen, as the characters crawl from location to location, trying to kill one another without being hit themselves.

 The action is very cartoonish at first, as each of the characters is shot for comic effect. As the gunfight drags on though, things slowly become more realistic, as the characters have to resort to crawling, and pass out due to blood loss.

 Since the film is basically one long gunfight, I kept a running tally of how many times each character was shot before they died.

Stevo: 3
Bernie: 3
Frank: 4, possibly 5
Chris: 3

Vernon: 4 (along with many other non-ballistic injuries, including being set on fire)
Harry: 4
Gordon: 2

Ord: 3
Justine: 3
Martin: 1

I may be off by a shot or two, as it's often hard to tell if certain characters were actually hit by a bullet or just shrapnel.

 When Frank finally answers the ringing office phone, it's a recording saying he's won a lifetime supply of something (it's hard to hear what's actually being said). Did they have telemarketing calls like that in the late 1970s? Seems to me like that didn't happen until much later, but I can't remember for sure.

 After being shot a couple of times, Vernon worries that he'll bleed to death. Ord says, "Relax. It didn't even hit an artery. You're fine. You got at least an hour and a half." Vernon replies, "Eh?" and Ord says, "The Golden Hour And A Half. It's a rule."

Welp, Ord's almost right. There's no such thing as a Golden Hour And A Half, but there is a Golden Hour. It's the period of time following a traumatic injury, during which medical treatment will have the highest rate of success and prevent death.

I'm assuming the movie stretched the Golden Hour a bit here, to explain why the characters can still be functioning (well, sort of) by the end of the ninety minute run time.

 Vernon is by far the most cartoonish character in the entire film, as he racks up injury after injury like a South African Wile E. Coyote. In addition to being shot four times, he cuts his hand on broken glass, gets tossed around by the gas explosion, is hit on the head numerous times by falling debris, and is finally set on fire! 

About the only thing that doesn't happen to him is falling off a cliff and making a small poof of dust far below...

 Martin gets shot in the head early on in the shootout, and seemingly dies. Later he suddenly springs back to life, shooting wildly at both sides as he hallucinates. He finally falls down again, for good this time.

Harry then tells everyone to stop shooting for a minute (!) so he can check to make sure Martin's really dead this time.

This "time out" scene was identical to the way kids playing "War" will call a temporary truce in order to gather more ammo. It was particularly funny seeing dangerous thugs do the same thing.

 When Harry crawls into the van and tries to escape, the 8-track player starts up, playing You Fill Up My Senses. Stevo tries to stop the van by shooting it, until Harry slowly runs over his head and bursts it like a ripe melon.

After seeing that scene, you'll never listen to John Denver the same way again!

 When the characters first enter the abandoned factory, they wonder what kind of company it was. This becomes kind of a running joke, as it's mentioned two or three times throughout the film. 

In the final minutes of the movie, the fire in the upstairs office causes the sprinklers to come on. The dying Chris then slumps against a wall, leaning against a large painted sign that ironically reads, "Watson's Umbrellas." Eh? EH? It's raining inside an umbrella factory! Get it?

Is there really such a thing as an umbrella factory? That seems like an odd product to devote an entire business to manufacturing, but what do I know?

Actually the factory space inexplicably contains carts full of broken concrete, numerous flammable gas tanks and lots of broken glass. It seems more like a machine shop or mill than a place that makes something delicate like umbrellas.

The factory contains lots of broken rock, flammable gas tanks and broken glass. It looks more like a foundry than a place that makes umbrellas.

Free Fire is a violent action movie/dark comedy, who's sole selling point is its sixty two minute gunfight that plays out in real time. Other than that there's little to the film, as its characters are all unlikable ciphers, giving the audience no one to root for. I give it a C.

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