Freefire is a claustrophobic action movie set in 70’s Boston, which centres around an arms deal that spirals out of control after a fight breaks out between members of the two factions.
Despite this seemingly downbeat setup, the tone favours the likes of Leonard over Lehane and is essentially a blackly-comic crime-caper, primarily set in a single location. Featuring an impressive ensemble of established and emerging talent, we are introduced to the Irish contingent (implicitly, though not explicitly IRA members) led by Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley. Upon arriving at the disused industrial site that serves as the meeting point, they are met by Armie Hammer’s suave, yet disarming American broker. Hammer, in turn, introduces us to Sharlto Copley’s vaguely inept South African gun merchant. Brie Larson plays the sole female member of the piece and presents a character of unclear backstory or bona fide allegiance. Whilst the original casting of Olivia Wilde would have proved more suitable in my opinion, the filmmakers don’t squander the opportunity to revel in Larson’s post Oscar glory throughout the publicity material. Her character remains decidedly more astute than some of the guys but when things get rough, she takes the hits just like the others and definitely holds her own after her attempts to give peace a chance fail spectacularly.
The first act arranges the elements efficiently and the tension begins to build as the audience is left to guess who will draw first blood. Whilst it’s clear that there is some lurking discontent and antagonism from the outset, the leaders of the gangs do an admirable job in trying to quell any major flare-ups until their business is through. Suffice to say, things don’t go to plan and all hell breaks loose after Sam Riley’s clownish goon and Jack Reynor’s fiery hoodlum fail to see eye to eye. From here, the film becomes an extended shoot out with any hope of rationality going out the window. The action is mostly played for laughs amidst the carnage, with everyone getting a chance to show their comedic chops and skills (or lack thereof) with a shooter. As the film starts to whittle down the cast until the last man (or woman) is left standing, the gags become broader and the limping more desperate as a third party intervenes to complicate things further. This element in particularly prompts my main criticism of the movie. The introduction of an outside threat may have afforded us a chance to see foes turn friends and I would have loved to have seen an Assault on Precinct 13 style team-up in the heat of the chaos. Sadly, this wasn’t to be the case and the film pursues a far less satisfying conclusion as the momentum starts to slow down in the last half hour.
That being said, by no means is the film unenjoyable, far from it. The dialogue is snappy, the characters engaging (albeit formulaic) and the grisly deaths, one would anticipate from Wheatley, start cropping up in the third act in reliably wince-inducing fashion. The problem is that the whole enterprise seems very routine and offers very little innovation or scope for surprise. In the end, style over substance wins out yet again, but perhaps I’m being too harsh on what is basically a solid crowd pleaser – you decide. For those with any interest, I’d advise you check out the Red Band trailer which captures the spirit perfectly. If that catches your interest, you’ll probably get your money’s worth.