‘Free Fire’ is a violent bullet ridden free for all

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We’ve seen this one before. An illegal arms deal going down in a cold, dark, abandoned warehouse between two groups of nefarious characters. The tension quickly mounts as one wrong move with such armed and dangerous hoodlums sets off a frenzied shootout and game of survival. We know that scene, but not as an entire feature length film.

The peculiarly violent “Free Fire” registers very high on the pain and pleasure scale. Ben Wheatley (“High Rise”) directed and co-wrote this “experiment” with wife Amy Jump. We assume Martin Scorsese joined as executive producer to enhance the overindulgence, scrub out any remnants of subtlety or nuance, and provide more “bang” for the buck.

Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley lead a cast of smooth talkers, hot heads, dim-wits and low-lifes that make up the two sides of this business transaction. Apparently, the Irish Republican Army wants a load of M-16 rifles and a South African group wants a lot of cash. This sounds simple enough, or does it?

Although cooler heads prevail for a while, loose cannons on both sides eventually erupt and the situation escalates. Each side attempts to contain the barrage of bullets, but is offset by the irrational behavior from their minions. Although they instinctively divide by competing sides, there are also natural factions by levels of sanity, as everyone scatters behind whatever makeshift barrier can be found at the time.

In the midst of the bullet-ridden carnage, many of the shooters get “winged” in the crossfire and reduced to slithering. It becomes challenging to track which side each is on, especially when the alliances become increasingly fluid. At one point, one character concedes, “I forgot whose side I’m on!” Fortunately, they all have the marksmanship of a “Hawaii Five-O” gun battle, so we know this will take a while.

At some point, you’d think some or all of them would just slip out the back door, but many are expecting a big payday from a suitcase full of cash lying in the middle of the floor. The other side needs the weapons in order to advance their cause. In amassing the teams, neither side expected personal disputes to interrupt their plans.

Wheatley admits to using video games as a source of inspiration for his film. In the process, he makes a not-so-subtle commentary on violence in today’s action movies. Our society has become so jaded to the sound of automatic weapons and expectations of over-extended battle scenes that seem to get longer and more violent, he just takes it to its eventual conclusion; the entire movie.

Sometimes it’s the journey, not the destination. So, Wheatley makes the characters fascinating, fills them with snappy dialog and infuses the script with a deadly serious comedy of errors, all to the background of a John Denver 8-track tape. In one scene, characters try to reposition each other with hand signals. As one flashes two fingers and points, the other is not so sure what he means. In most movies, they immediately know what the other is trying to say. It’s pretty funny and sad that it’s really never that clear.

As they are all in the same open warehouse, some are continuously negotiating, others just making witty conversation to lighten the tension, while most are weary, wounded and repositioning their vantage points in case it comes down to the last man standing.

“Free Fire” is 90 minutes and rated R for strong violence, language, sexual references and drug use. It’s dark, dirty, violent, funny, and could be become a cult classic. The title “The Gang that Couldn’t Shoot Straight” is already taken, but this movie goes from intense to thrilling to exhausting, then repeats as kind of a guilty pleasure for some and gruesome nightmare for others.

There’s a theory that if everyone were armed, there would be less violence, uh, not here. Instead, it’s just point and shoot, not necessarily in that order. We know that guns don’t kill people, but people with guns can do a lot of damage. We learn that there’s an audience willing to pay a buck to see it all in “living” color. The message hits its target.

Ron’s Rating: B    Leigh’s Rating: D-

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Ron & Leigh Martel