When the Bough Breaks (2016)

Released: September 9, 2016. Directed by: Jon Cassar. Starring: Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Jaz Sinclair. Runtime: 1h 47 min. 

When the Bough Breaks, Screen Gems’ third September thriller with stalker, manages to be almost memorable because it’s so awful and such a poorly executed Fatal Attraction knockoff.

John and Laura Taylor (Morris Chestnut and Regina Hall) have realized they can’t have a baby after Laura’s had three miscarriages, so they decide to hire a surrogate mother. They find the seemingly perfect candidate in Anna Walsh (Jaz Sinclair). After moving into their guest house, she eventually becomes obsessed with John and interferes with his personal and professional life.

She asks inappropriate questions but of course, John doesn’t say anything. This whole situation could be avoided if he would just tell Laura that Anna’s being a creep and trying to seduce him. It becomes a stranger situation because she has their baby in utero and it threatens to become a hostage situation – legally, it’s her baby – so that’s a way it offers a fresh turn on the Fatal Attraction plot. Unfortunately, that’s where any originality begins and ends.

You’ve seen every twist and turn before and it unfolds in an unsurprising way. The writing’s basic from first-time writer Jack Olsen. Morris Chestnut’s John is an ambitious lawyer who loves his wife and doesn’t want to cheat. Hall’s Laura is a traveling chef or something, and she really wants to start a family. The two stars try their best in one-dimensional roles, and they deserve better.

Jaz Sinclair is the nutty Anna and she’s given the most to work with as the over-the-top stalker. She’s whiny and bratty, and Sinclair plays the bratty side believably but it’s unintentionally hilarious when tries to be totally crazy.

Jaz Sinclair, Morris Chestnut

Jaz Sinclair and Morris Chestnut in When the Bough Breaks. (Source)

She’s silliest and most over-the-top hilarious when she screams and flails her hands in a fit in her car, which makes her looks like a pre-teen brat throwing a temper tantrum. The tantrum could be a clip from the MTV show My Super Sweet 16 because the birthday girl didn’t get the car they wanted.

The performance is not good. When she’s told to be innocent, she just smiles excessively and is annoyingly cutesy. At one point she watches John and Laura kissing, and it’s creepy and robotic –  it’s like she doesn’t quite know what they’re doing. It’s awkward.

In all fairness, the character’s just awful. There is a gem of a scene under the dreck where Anna sings “Rock-a-bye-Baby” in the bathtub. She attempts to be menacing (it doesn’t work), as she cuts her leg with a razor blade. Its presence is so random that it enters unintentional hilarity, and the scene only seems to serve to establish where the film gets its name. It really is unfortunate director Jon Cassar just didn’t make this a stalker comedy.

It’s baffling this is billed as a horror film, because there’s nothing scary about it and the writing and Cassar aren’t able to conjure up any kind-of suspense. Its PG-13 rating also makes it incredibly tame. Nudity is avoided when John watches a video of Anna on his computer and before she can disrobe, he hastily shuts his laptop in the nick of time. No nudity, no gore, no scares: No entertainment.

Score: 25/100

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Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2

 

Released: May 5, 2017. Directed by: James Gunn. Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista. Runtime: 2h 16 min.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 manages to be as fun and original as its predecessor.

It feels fresh as it sets itself apart even in its opening action sequence as a space beast tries to take batteries the Guardians are protecting.

These batteries are a power source for the Sovereign, a race that’s hired the Guardians to kill the beast and in exchange they’ll release a thief to them: Gamora’s sister, Nebula (Karen Gillan).

We get a different perspective as Quill, Drax (Dave Bautista), Gamora (Zoe Saldana) and Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) fight the behemoth in the background and Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) does a dance to “Mr. Blue Sky” in the foreground. It’s creative as we watch his antics and it’s like a great opening act before the main event.

After they complete the job, Rocket steals the batteries and naturally, they want them back. The leader of the golden conceited douchebags, Ayesha (a statuesque Elizabeth Debicki) pursues the Guardians. Our heroes are helped from the situation by Ego (Kurt Russell), who ends up being Quill’s father and we learn about Peter’s familial lineage.

We learn the source of Peter’s charm and slight arrogance from Ego. He’s portrayed well by Russell, and the character takes superiority and egotism to the max – his name is literally Ego. Pratt plays Quill so well and has the charm for the role and gets some really good laughs. It’s intriguing learning about his background and their relationship is one of the many interesting dynamics and a focus of the film, and Pratt and Russell carry it well.

The narrative is fast-paced but it’s more complex than the first film’s simplistic story. It gets unfocused on the road to the end, but it finds its way back on track. It’s still a really entertaining story, and the same zany sense of humour and creativity in writing shine through. The characters themselves drive the action-packed space opera.

The dynamics between characters work well, especially as we learn more about the sister rivalry between Gamora and Nebula. Saldana and Karen Gillan play their respective characters well and are both kickass, and Nebula is a stronger character this go around. Gamora doesn’t have a whole lot to do in this sequel – at least compared to the first film.

Guardians

The Guardians of the Galaxy. (Source)

Rocket gets slightly serious as we understand him more, and his chemistry with Yondu (Michael Rooker) is good. Yondu has a bigger role and he’s a pleasant surprise as he becomes integral to the story. It’s delightful learning about his backstory, and he’s a memorable part of many scenes.

Dave Bautista is hilarious as Drax, though his growth as a character is stalled – most of his backstory was handled in the first movie, so we don’t go much further into his development and he’s mostly a source of humour here. He ribs on new character Mantis (Pom Klementieff) a lot, and they’re fun together. She’s a good addition and the make-up is great considering she’s lovely outside the character. Drax points out multiple times Mantis is only beautiful on the inside.

Baby Groot is also great. He’s adorable and a joy whenever he’s on-screen. They’re able to create such a different character with the baby version since he’s aggressive instead of his calm, adult version of himself. This Groot is always up for a fight. Vin Diesel does the inflexions of “I am Groot” so well that it’s believable when Rocket translates for us.

I love that the characters are fractured in some way emotionally with their pasts, and it’s nice that they get through it together. The group’s closeness and how they create their own family makes the film surprisingly moving. The family dynamic enriches the chemistry, and it’s just so endearing because they’re all so different.

I just love the relationships director James Gunn and the cast bring to life. Gunn is such a good fit for the franchise and his comedy flows through the story well. This has so much heart and all the characters have a chance to shine, and it all leads up to a visually dazzling finale.

Plus, the soundtrack is great. I hadn’t heard a lot of the songs before the film – my favourite has to be Looking Glass’ “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” – but I’ve been listening to the soundtrack basically on repeat since seeing this. You probably will, too.

Score: 80/100

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The Circle (2017)

The Circle poster

The Circle. Released: April 28, 2017. Directed by: James Ponsoldt. Starring: Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega. Runtime: 1h 50 min. 

The Circle is a familiar and generic corporate thriller about the dark side of technology, but it’s disappointing because it doesn’t go into enough depth.

Mae (Emma Watson) gets a dream job as part of the customer experience team at a tech company called the Circle which creates one single online identity for users. The work environment looks a lot like Google, which seems obsolete in this near future (we never get a specific year). The campus itself is in the shape of a circle – obviously to remind workers they’re working at the Circle, not the Pentagon. Eventually Mae uncovers a nefarious agenda, but she takes awhile to get to that.

The Circle’s world is working towards transparency, where you can’t have moments alone or private conversations. Everything you do is public and there are cameras everywhere. It’s like everyone’s a celebrity and there are paparazzi at every turn. The lack of privacy is also like the Edward Snowden conspiracy of the government watching, but taken to an extreme and it becomes far-fetched.

It’s a generic sci-fi thriller with an intriguing high-concept. The writing never creates compelling dialogue and its attempts at suspense are predictable. Its themes of the importance of privacy it tries to depict don’t feel significant enough, and the film generally places concept above any substance or in-depth character development.

The Circle itself is led by charismatic CEO Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks), who’s like Steve Jobs if he were a social media obsessed cult leader. The Circle feels like a cult, especially when people think it’s weird Mae hasn’t connected her social media accounts to the Circle after her first week.

It’s a weird scene as Renata (Ellen Wong) and Matt (Amir Talai) tell her that she’s an enigma because people across campus don’t know her. They question why she wasn’t here on the weekend doing activities, and when she says she went kayaking they’re surprised because that’s not on her social media. Matt says, “I love kayaking. We could have gone together.” It’s awkward, drawn-out scenes like these that show everyone’s super weird.

Mae’s initially a breath of fresh air because she likes privacy and she’s a cute little guppy (what newbies are called at the Circle), but she soon gets eaten by the weird piranhas. Like the rest of them – she drank the damn Kool-Aid.

The Circle has a high-tech allure, but it’s not convincing when Mae willingly gives up her privacy because of a dumb reason.  Emma Watson’s great as Mae, but if it any other actress were playing her, she wouldn’t get much sympathy or have the same kind-of magnetism. She commands a crowd in public speaking and brings a natural charisma. Mae isn’t well-developed, and at times it feels like the only thing we know about her is that she likes kayaking when things get too hard.

The Circle movie

Emma Watson in The Circle. (Source

The only time I cared about anything happening is because I feel like it affected Emma Watson. She’s a great actress, even when she plays a poorly developed character whose motivations are hard to understand.  It’s surprising the film manages to create such a good cast, but doesn’t rise to the occasion in any other aspect.

Tom Hanks is fine as Bailey, even though he’s a generic CEO wanting to change the world. He gets less screen time than one might expect. Patton Oswalt is more generic as the company’s Chief Officer of Operations, Tom Stenton.

John Boyega gets a disappointing amount of screen time as his character, but he’s fine when he’s there. Bill Paxton plays Mae’s father with MS in his last theatrical film. His character is a reason Mae is more developed than most, since she wants to help him get better. Karen Gillan’s a good surprise as Annie, too, and she gets to her use her natural Scottish accent here.

I must talk about Mercer. His sub-plot about making deer antler chandeliers and Mae’s parents trying to play matchmaker for him and Mae is silly. His character could be written out entirely and wouldn’t be missed. He’s played by Ellar Coltrane, the kid who grew up in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. He plays an everyday worker man who likes privacy, and Coltrane looks incredibly uncomfortable on-screen. He’s so bad and awkward, and it reminds me of how uncomfortable Kristen Stewart looks in the Twilight films.

Director James Ponsoldt doesn’t bring any charm from The Spectacular Now. He and Dave Eggers co-write a screenplay based on Eggers’ own novel that’s a mess. The Circle’s plot wanders around aimlessly and doesn’t find a coherent storyline. It’s like Ponsoldt and Eggers played Hide ‘n Seek with a good story, couldn’t find one, and gave up.

Score: 40/100

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Phoenix Forgotten (2017)

Released: April 21, 2017. Directed by: Justin Barber. Starring: Florence Hartigan, Luke Spencer Roberts, Chelsea Lopez. Runtime: 1h27 min. 

Phoenix Forgotten is like one of those films that come out of nowhere, but this is because of a quiet marketing campaign. It tries to replicate the success of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, and it’s disappointingly mediocre (especially with the involvement of Ridley Scott’s production company Scott Free Productions).

Integrated at the centre of the story is the Phoenix Lights, a triangular light formation that was seen from Phoenix, Arizona in March 1997. It’s never been explained, and is the most famous so-called UFO sighting in the world.

The fictional story comes with three teens – Josh Bishop (Luke Spencer Roberts), Ashley Foster (Chelsea Lopez), and Mark Abrams (Justin Matthews) – who disappeared without a trace investigating the Phoenix Lights. 20 years later in 2017, Josh Bishop’s sister Sophie (Florence Hartigan), 26, is investigating the disappearance. She discusses it with her own parents and Ashley’s parents as she makes a documentary.

It’s interesting learning about the Phoenix Lights. It’s famous, but I never heard about it, so it’s intriguing. I thought it was just making a generic UFO sighting and developing mythology; instead, it interestingly blends some truth with a lot of fiction, and the unexplained phenomena has some intrigue. That’s what makes some of the first hour interesting.

The story doesn’t flow well as it skips between Sophie making a documentary in 2017 about the disappearance, and back to Josh and Ashley making a documentary about the Phoenix Lights in 1997 (Josh was an aspiring director, so he filmed everything). It thereby mixes some docu-drama with found footage.

Sophie mostly just talks to her parents and other experts who give lots of speculation. They say forgettable stuff, and there are so many boring interview subjects that I found myself forgetting who was who. It’s interesting how Sophie’s parents were affected after Josh has been missing for 20 years with no closure. It’s heartbreaking, but besides them, the emotional connection is non-existent; as the characters are one-dimensional.

Phoenix ForgottenJosh is single-minded and becomes obsessed when he gets an idea in his head. I liked seeing in his room that he was sci-fi enthusiast with X-Files and Alien posters all over his room. Ashley’s more interesting, since she’s open-minded and interviews well as an aspiring journalist. One interview features local astronomers talking about how they think the lights were flares.

Mark just feels like he’s kind-of there, since he has a car. He’s a friend but he’s almost has no dimension. The little-known actors aren’t memorable, but they do serviceable jobs. Chelsea Lopez as Ashley brings some charm.

The cinematography is stronger in Sophie’s documentary, but her film is way less interesting. Her documentary feels distinctly incomplete even when she has a chance to make an ending, and the film doesn’t execute.

It’s also silly that she waits 20 years to investigate the disappearance, and like the documentary, this feels like it’s made a few years too late, especially after the release of The Phoenix Incident in 2015 (a docu-drama about the real-life disappearances). It’s especially late since Adam Wingard released Blair Witch last year, and this is essentially a carbon copy of The Blair Witch Project mixed with a some of The X-Files.

The film’s a puzzle as they try to explain what happened to these 17-year-olds. The mystery’s never been solved because they stopped filming at one point. It’s the one video that promises something happening, as most of the videos are uneventful. Sometimes they investigate the Lights, but other times they just go for a hike hoping something will happen.

The videos are amateurishly shot and Josh annoyingly can never keep the camera on the action, and it’s hard to see what’s going on. The camera’s consistently shaky, but the visual effects are cool when we see it long enough. The filmmakers make it look like the videos were filmed in 1997. It has a VHS quality, and it adds realism.

The horror relies on psychological aspects of paranoia, lots of bright lights and loud noises instead of jump scares, which makes it refreshing. In that way, it does something different from most found-footage films, and part of the reason why I’m giving it a passing score.

The tension is palpable because of chilling sound design. It feels more like freaky, sci-fi scares than anything and when I’m talking about horror, it’s only existent in the film’s final 15-20 minutes when we get the last piece of the puzzle. It’s a good finale.

The first hour has 15 minutes of interesting material, but it’s boring and not scary. Since only a fraction of this is thrilling, it doesn’t work as a feature film. It would be better as a 30-minute segment in an anthology franchise like V/H/S because there’s not enough material here, and Josh’s sister making a documentary in the present day often feels like filler. Director Justin Barber fleshes it out to about 80 minutes and it doesn’t feel like a well-rounded feature. The last piece of the puzzle is the only good part. Otherwise, Phoenix Forgotten is already fading from my memory.

Score: 50/100

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Unforgettable (2017)

 

Released: April 21, 2017. Directed by: Denise Di Novi. Starring: Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

Unforgettable is a formulaic stalker story that is a forgettable affair. If they didn’t want critics taking jabs, they wouldn’t name it something so inviting!

Rosario Dawson is Julia Banks, an online editor who never does any work. She moves to a SoCal town with boyfriend David Connover (Geoff Stults) and his adorable daughter Lily (Isabella Kai Rice). The happy couple are also planning to get married. However, when there’s a daughter, there’s often a crazy ex-wife: The insanely jealous Tessa Connover (Katherine Heigl). She annoyingly can’t move on from David after two years of being separated, and she’ll stop at nothing to try to ruin their relationship.

The most frustrating thing about Unforgettable is its writing. It opens in the middle of its story as we see Julia being interrogated and then it jumps back to six months earlier (the timeline feels like two weeks at most, by the way). It’s an awful choice because they give us so much information, they even tell us someone’s dead, and it takes away element of surprise.

The thrills are weak regardless because it’s a predictable story, but I can’t remember a film that spoiled its own secrets so early. Between its interesting thoughts, this goes through the motions of every erotic thriller and goes out with a silly ending. This is Christina Hodson’s sophomore screenplay after the god-awful Shut In and it’s a bit better, but not by much. Though, these characters are more interesting.

Julia’s past with an abusive ex has been done before, but her insecurities are honest. She needed to get a restraining order for her last relationship (conveniently, it’s expiring for some unknown reason) and now she’s a victim trying to move on. She’s usually empowered, and Rosario Dawson is impressive because she doesn’t phone in a performance. She’s a lone bright spot.

Tessa is a total control freak and the film offers motivations for her insanities, but she’s simply a psycho Barbie, as Julia’s wise-cracking bestie (Whitney Cummings) aptly puts it. Tessa’s also the poster girl for helicopter parents. She’s shaping Lily into a mini Barbie through horseback riding and French lessons. These are some of the funniest moments, as Julia lets the little Barbie off a horse much to Tessa’s objections, and the French lessons are basically characters singing “Alouette, gentille Alouette.” There’s a lot of hair brushing as Tessa tries to get her daughter’s tangles out, and only villains brush hair that menacingly and that often.

Unforgettable horsey

Katherine Heigl, Rosario Dawson and Isabella Kai Rice in one of the thriller’s funniest scenes. (Source)

There are countless icy stares in Katherine Heigl’s performance. She’s one-note crazy and cold, but convincingly plays the controlling part. The character’s supposed to go crazy after she finds out they’re getting married, but it’s not convincing because Tessa looks bonkers the first time we see her. She plays uptight and crazy in the same range. This is at least until the end when she enters over-the-top campiness, but at least it looks like Heigl’s having fun.

There are a lot of silly scenes. At one point Tessa cries and watches a video of her wedding with David. She’s so perfect, even her tears fall in flawless lines. It’s funny, and Unforgettable toes a “so bad it’s good” line in these moments, but it never fully embraces it.

I don’t usually pay attention to prop design, but I must bring this up: At one point, Julia and David have a conversation in their living room. Meanwhile, there are about 25 crystal salt and pepper shakers on the coffee table. It leaves so many questions: Why is it there? Are they seasoning a feast? Who needs that much salt and pepper?

The closest I came to an answer: It’s there to spice up David’s personality. He’s so bland that it’s hard to see why these girls are fighting over him. It’s also baffling that even though this tries to empower women and is directed and written by women, it’s all about them fighting over a guy.

Any actor can play the role because he’s just the one-note, clueless husband and he’s just there to be fought over as the female leads duke it out. Geoff Stults gets the call, and I’ve only seen him in She’s Out of My League when he played an ex trying to win back an old girlfriend. That one has Jay Baruchel who’s dating his old love, but they’re fighting over Alice Eve. At least that’s believable.

Veteran producer Denise Di Novi (Edward Scisccorhands) makes her directorial debut and handles thrills with little style. She makes one scene feel pointless as Julia wants sex in a bathroom with David. Meanwhile, Tessa pleasures herself during a Facebook chat. The editing makes it unsexy and one of the most cringe-worthy scenes. If you can find any meaning in it, it’s that sex is a means of control. There’s zero passion in this scene, or this erotic thriller. David looks absolutely perplexed after it transpires. He gets the satisfaction, but with Unforgettable, we’re the ones who get screwed.

Score: 38/100

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Logan (2017)

Released: March 3, 2017. Directed by: James Mangold. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen. Runtime: 2h 21 min.

In 2016, Deadpool really started to push the limits of the superhero subgenre, but with Logan, director James Mangold takes the envelope, slashes it apart and creates something that reinvents the idea of what a superhero film can be.

I love it when superhero films offer something different than we’re used to seeing. Mangold does just that with Logan, as he takes a beloved character and creates something so different and original.

The year’s 2029 and Logan (Hugh Jackman) is working as a limo driver and is taking care of Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) on a border town in Mexico. Logan’s aging and weary and is trying to hide from the world. His existence is upturned when young mutant Laura (Dafne Keen) arrives and is being pursued by mysterious forces.

Logan feels different because it’s so grounded in realism, and a limited use of CGI helps with that. The world created is fascinating: Everyone’s heard of the X-Men because they’re written about in comic books, and some characters are even Wolverine fans. The world feels real and it looks great. Its setting gives it a Western movie feel and its cinematography complements the story’s raw mood.

The atmosphere and style truly capture the story, and even the score feels like it becomes a character. The story is character-driven, and you feel everything these characters are going through, which makes it so human. It sends you on a roller coaster of emotions and it makes the experience gritty and unique.

Logan’s also raw because our heroes are so vulnerable. Logan has a vulnerability in his older age as he’s past his former glory and isn’t as invincible as he used to be. Even the villainous Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) notes, “Seeing you like this breaks my heart.”

It’s more heartbreaking seeing Charles Xavier in his state. I don’t want to spoil it but I’ll say his condition creates some compelling sequences. It’s enlightening seeing Charles in old age, to know that even the greatest mutants grow old, and Patrick Stewart delivers a striking and vulnerable performance.

His relationship with Logan features the usual tough-love and fatherly vibe, and Charles’ guidance creates great dialogue. Their chemistry’s endearing and their banter finds new life with an R-rating, because it’s so damn funny. Logan’s become self-loathing, and our anti-hero finds purpose with Laura. Logan’s relationship with Laura is great; their chemistry is entertaining to watch as it evolves. Their dynamic is cool where they eventually have to talk, and it’s not cliché banter. Laura is largely mute for the film and emotes distrust well and has a heartwarming curiosity.

Dafne Keen is charming and fiery as Laura, and it is such a good debut. Keen captures the character’s rage so well with a convincing ferocity. She’s great in action, and handles drama even better.

Logan

Hugh Jackman in his last hurrah as Wolverine in Logan. (Source)

Hugh Jackman effectively portrays Logan’s depression. The R-rating allows writers to explore adult themes like this as it reaches a level of sophistication rarely seen in a comic book film. In other X-Men films Logan does feel haunted, but with the mature storytelling, you truly feel and get a sense of how haunted he is at this point in his life.

Jackman is so great physically and moving emotionally. He’s so visceral in rage, and even though the character’s older now, he’s badass and still strong enough to break a shotgun over his knee. His last outing as Wolverine is easily his most remarkable.

Back to the writing. I can’t give enough kudos to writing team James Mangold, Scott Frank and Michael Green, who take X-Men storylines (namely “Old Man Logan”) and mix them into such an original story. They take time telling it, and there are intimate moments and poignant drama throughout.

A scene has our trio eating dinner with a family they’ve met and it’s funny and has great banter. The film has a great capability to slow down and show charming, human scenes like this that develop characters. It shows patience in storytelling, and it shows a comic book movie doesn’t need relentless, non-stop action to be supremely entertaining. The bursts of action are still amazingly directed. They’re bloody and brutal, and just a hell of a lot of fun.

With Logan, I’ll only complain about its villains. Boyd Holbrook is menacing, yet destructible, and has presence as Pierce, but there’s something to be desired since we don’t know who he works for as they make it mysterious in the beginning. Instead of feeling mysterious, it’s often confusing and frustrating. When we find out who they are and what they’re doing, it’s great and interesting, because it strengthens the story.

This gears up to a great finale that is well worth the wait for action junkies. It’s bloody and thrilling. It’s a bittersweet end to an era since Jackman’s been Wolverine for 17 years. As the credit rolls, a chapter of film history rolls with it. Logan is the best of the Wolverine trilogy and it’s just the fitting send-off that Hugh Jackman deserves.

Score: 95/100

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Free Fire (2017)

 

Released: April 21, 2017. Directed by: Ben Wheatley. Starring: Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson. Runtime: 1hr. 30 min.

I actually saw this at the Toronto International Film Festival last year (on Sept. 9, 2016), and this is a revised review I wrote in mid-September. I didn’t post this because I was a bad blogger back then but without further adieu, here it is…

Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire, a balls-to-the-wall 1970’s gun battle, is one hell of a ride.

The premise is simple. Brie Larson’s Justine has arranged a gun deal between Irishmen Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), and gun dealers Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Armie Hammer’s Ord. It’s set in 1970’s Boston in an abandoned warehouse and is largely in this one setting, and it’s the perfect set-up for the wild shootout.

Wheatley knows how to build tension from the word go, as the characters walk into the deserted warehouse to do the deal. Some characters don’t like each other, and after some developments, you can cut the tension with a knife.

The sound design make the initial gunshots sound like an IMAX film, almost like they’re in the same room. For the characters, chances of getting out alive decrease when all hell breaks loose and it becomes a true Mexican standoff. It’s like the atmosphere of The Nice Guys mixed with tension and dialogue that would make Quentin Tarantino proud. This does feel like parts Reservoir Dogs, too, with its limited setting and tension.

Free Fire Armie

Armie Hammer in Free Fire. (Source)

This still effortlessly manages to be fresh, and makes me want to see more of Ben Wheatley’s films (like Kill List and High-Rise). His movies all seem unique and different as he tackles many different genres. Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump (they’re also married) also edit Free Fire – editing it in such a way where you can follow its quick pace, but you’re not always able to tell where some characters are hiding in the warehouse. It might be a ploy to put the audience in the same space as the characters – not knowing who they’re shooting at or where everyone’s hiding.

The ensemble created is great and each performer brings something memorable to their characters. The costume design, wigs and different accents also set everyone apart. Sharlto Copley’s a scene-stealer as Vernon and he has some of the best moments. Everyone from Brie Larson to Cillian Murphy to Michael Smiley hold their own, delivering physically demanding performances as they crawl on the dirty warehouse floor avoiding an array of bullets.

One of the film’s most pleasant surprises is Armie Hammer. I thought he was bland in The Lone Ranger (to be fair he had little to work with), but here as the calm and collected Ord, he’s badass. He’s also funny as hell, and the range he shows feels like he should be getting more comedic roles.

The most impressive thing about Free Fire is that it’s just deliriously fun. Action comedies can be hit-and-miss especially when there’s a task of finding the right balance. But director-writer Wheatley, and Amy Jump, manage to make the action consistently fresh. The people shooting at each other doesn’t feel repetitive and there are many ways to get characters out of situations. The dialogue’s sharp, witty and hilarious, and this is just some of the best fun I’ve had at the movies in awhile.

Score: 88/100

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