I’ve always adored single-location stories. Moon, Locke, Carnage and 12 Angry Men are just a few of the movies where the lack of location change forces both the script and the actors to be at the top of their game. If anything, a single location story is the ultimate test of a director’s skill. Hopefully Ben Wheatley has what it takes to create a film that can stand alongside those previously mentioned gems.
Taking place in an abandoned warehouse in 1978, the IRA and a Rhodesian gun runner meet up for an arms deal. Unfolding in real time, things seem to be going well at first; but a personal conflict between low-ranking members of each gang threatens to derail the deal and put everyone’s life in danger.
An ensemble cast always adds an additional challenge to a film, as even one weak link can bring the entire house of cards crashing down. Fortunately Ben Wheatley brings together a reasonably strong and likable cast, even if their characters are rather one dimensional.
Essentially breaking down into “Irish” and “Not Irish”, the only real stand out character is that of Vern (Sharlto Copley); a hilariously obnoxious man who’s never quite got over the fact that he was misdiagnosed as a child genius. Copley seems to be the only one who really dives into the farcical nature the film seems to be aiming for, and as such, ends up being the most engaging aspect in what is otherwise a rather weak film.
More often than not the reason for a weak film is due to a weak script. Sure, you may occasionally have a poor actor or inadequate special effects, but in most cases the script is to blame. However, in Free Fire the issue is not with the script (as demonstrated by the abundance of quotable lines!), but rather with pretty much every other aspect of the production ranging from the direction, cinematography, editing and production design.
With Free Fire, the fundamental problem is that there’s no physical context as to where the characters are in the scene at any one time. Every single part of that warehouse looks exactly the same. So, for example, when a character is cowering on the floor, it’s almost impossible for the audience to infer important details such as what direction the bullets are coming from or how far away the shooter is.
As a comparison, there’s a reason why a car chase in the city is much more entertaining than a car chase in the desert. Background context helps the scene flow as it gives the audience an anchor as the where the characters are in relationship to their surroundings. This aspect is sorely needed in Free Fire.
Maybe if Tarantino or someone similar had attempted this task it could have been an engaging piece of hilarity and action. But the previously mentioned flaw pretty much destroys any enjoyment of the piece.
While the concept of an 80 minute gunfight might sound audacious and engaging on paper; the final result is instead a violent mess of a movie that dives head first into monotony.