SXSW 2017: “Free Fire” Review

Warning: This review contains spoilers.

What do you get when you cross a Tarantino movie with the Three Stooges?  Gun play slap stick!  Unfortunately, “Free Fire” was nowhere as good as either.

(L-R) Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley, Micheal Smiley / Photo by Kerry Brown

Review by Joe Kelly

All I heard about this film before the screening at SXSW 2017 was that it was about a gun deal gone bad and was supposed to have the most epic gun fight scene ever on film.  I was also aware of the star studded cast. Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Enzo Cilenti and Armie Hammer have all starred in films that I have enjoyed–this was not one of them.

Director Ben Wheatley captured the essence of New York in the ‘70s stylistically.  He may have even set a record for amount of gun shots in a film, but he did not successfully ride this one trick pony through to a place on the podium.  Don’t get me wrong, if you are a fan of the “Fast and Furious” franchise, you are probably going to love this film.  It will not go down as a classic and will be quickly forgotten.

The film starts with a two ragtag groups of criminals gathering in an abandoned warehouse to complete a gun deal.  Once inside, the story develops and stays in that warehouse for the duration of the film, which was about 30 minutes longer than it should have been.

The plot: One group of people trying to buy guns for the Irish, lead by Cillian Murphy pitted against another group selling them led Enzo Cilenti.  Brie Larson and Armie Hammer play the go betweens and we never know which side they are on and it doesn’t really matter.  After a fight is revealed between two of the lower level thugs from each side the previous evening, the simple exchange of money for guns quickly deteriorates. The first shot rings out and wings a tough.  It is at this point that I recommend putting in earplugs, especially if viewing in a theater.

The two crews start to exchange gun fire, comically?  Spoiler alert: everyone gets shot, although no one is mortally wounded. The action scenes are good, this guy gets grazed in the shoulder, the girl gets one in the leg, another guy takes a headshot and does not die.  Initially funny, the bit gets repetitive quickly and becomes a Saturday Night Live skit that won’t end.

For far too long, our principal actors are writhing around on the ground attempting to take each other out. All of the acting ability of these stars is lost when the director insists on physical comedy that isn’t funny. The one line zingers did create a few laughs, but could not carry the premise until the end.  There were a couple of funny methods of people meeting their maker, a la “Evil Dead.”  Again, those laughs or groans, in instances, are few and far between.  Are you one of those people who think a six-shooter should be reloaded after firing shots for a half hour? Me too.  And when the gun finally does run out of bullets right before someone has a clear shot at someone, the click of the empty gun comes as no surprise to anyone.

At the end, one of our actors we thought was dead comes out of the blue to shoot who we thought was the last man standing and is about to limp away with the cash.  The cops then finally show up, after New York has been ringing with gunshots for an hour and a half.  The editor should have insisted on a shorter cut. When the film finally ends with no one winning you are relieved that you get to leave.

“Free Fire” will hit theaters April 21, 2017. 

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