Free Fire

A ware­house packed with gun­run­ners and toxic mas­culin­ity. What could go wrong?

The Washington Post - - THE WEATHER - BY ANN HOR­NA­DAY

ree Fire,” the lat­est cin­e­matic gut-punch from Ben Wheatley (“High­Rise”), gets off to a retro­tas­tic start, with a high-en­ergy cred­its se­quence com­posed of a fat ’70s-era font and a punchy track from the Bos­ton punk band the Real Kids. Just when the words “Martin Scors­ese” be­gin to form in the viewer’s mind, up pops his name as an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer.

Soon enough, though, Quentin Tarantino nudges the mas­ter aside as Wheatley’s chief in­flu­ence in a film that turns out to be lit­tle more than a clever stunt, a one-room bul­let bal­let that plays like “The Hate­ful Eight” with few-ah ahs. A real-time ex­er­cise in witty dia­logue, car­toon­ish vi­o­lence and aim just bad enough to leave its pro­tag­o­nists blood­ied but alive through most of its swift du­ra­tion, “Free Fire” feels like a left-handed project from a film­maker whose gifts for stag­ing, fram­ing and pac­ing are on full dis­play but feel ul­ti­mately wasted in a glib, down-and-dirty bagatelle.

As the film opens, Chris and Frank, IRA gun­run­ners played by Cil­lian Mur­phy and Michael Smi­ley, re­spec­tively, are sit­ting in a car with a go-be­tween named Jus­tine (Brie Lar­son), wait­ing for Ord (Ar­mie Ham­mer), a front­man for a South African arms dealer named Vern (Sharlto Co­p­ley). Decked out in a suave turtle­neck and heaps of fa­cial hair that make him look like an ex­tra from “An­chor­man,” Ham­mer’s Ord daz­zles the group with blasé, eru­dite commentary as he takes them to an aban­doned ware­house where the deal is sup­posed to go down. Each side of the trans­ac­tion has brought along some ex­tra muscle — in Chris and Frank’s case, a strung-out junkie named Stevo (Sam Ri­ley) and his best friend, Bernie (Enzo Ci­lenti). For his part, Vern has an im­pos­ing fac­to­tum named Martin (Babou Ceesay), as well as two more con­fed­er­ates who con­ve­niently bring the as­sem­bled en­sem­ble of ne’erdo-wells to an even 10.

As ab­surd as it seems to in­voke Agatha Christie to de­scribe a movie pro­pelled by sear­ing pro­fan­ity, graphic sav­agery and gen­eral de­prav­ity, “Free Fire” owes much of its par­lor-game sus­pense to her co­zily mur­der-minded mys­ter­ies. Once the gun­fire inevitably com­mences — joined at other points by punches, a tickling, a squishy de­cap­i­ta­tion and one or two in­cen­di­ary events — the movie be­comes a then-there-were-two count­down.

Co-writ­ten by Wheatley with his wife, Amy Jump, “Free Fire” is full of sting­ing ver­bal par­ries and thrusts (at one point some­one asks Ord to dis­tract an­other char­ac­ter with his “bad­i­nage”), but even­tu­ally the dia­logue gives way sim­ply to the sound of bul­lets fly­ing with de­ranged des­per­a­tion. It’s no sur­prise when one of the char­ac­ters ad­mits that he’s for­got­ten what side he’s on.

That could also be said of the view­ers, who, as “Free Fire” be­comes more monotonously de­praved, may find them­selves car­ing less and less about who lives and who dies. With his cul­ti­vated air of non­cha­lance, the triv­i­al­ized, con­se­quence-free vi­o­lence and re­verse-en­gi­neer­ing of a plot threaded with con­ve­nient twists and un­ex­pected ar­rivals, Wheatley

seems in­tent upon low­er­ing the stakes at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

Ad­mit­tedly, “Free Fire” is graced by some ter­rific per­for­mances, par­tic­u­larly Ri­ley as a rab­bity, flop-sweat­ing drug ad­dict, and the re­li­ably self-pos­sessed Lar­son, who finds her­self in the sec­ond movie this year to fea­ture a nee­dle drop of John Fogerty singing “Run Through the Jun­gle.” It’s her char­ac­ter who sees through the pos­tur­ing, the over­com­pen­sa­tion and ma­cho so­cial codes of this cham­ber piece of blunt-force stu­pid­ity and sur­vival to ut­ter a throw­away line that could eas­ily sum up the en­tire movie: “Ugh, men.”

R. At area the­aters. Con­tains strong vi­o­lence, per­va­sive pro­fan­ity, sex­ual ref­er­ences and drug use. 90 min­utes.

KERRY BROWN/A24

Free Fire IN VIEW, FROM LEFT: Ar­mie Ham­mer, Brie Lar­son, Cil­lian Mur­phy, Sam Ri­ley and Michael Smi­ley as one side of a weapons trans­ac­tion, tak­ing place in a Mas­sachusetts ware­house, that goes ter­ri­bly awry.

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