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

Advertisements

The ABCs of Death (2013)

abcs of deathReleased: March 8, 2013. Directed by: Various including Angela Bettis, Ti West and Ben Wheatley. Starring: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Iván González, Kyra Zagorsky. Runtime: 129 min.

Anthology films are a series of shorts compiled together, and the only thing they have in common is the genre they portray. A few anthology films from 2013 include this, Movie 43 and V/H/S/ 2 and since two of the three I’ve seen (this, The ABCs of Death, and M43) have been awful, state just how crappy anthology films can be. Movie 43 is a crappy compilation of crappy comedies, which are very rarely funny; ABCs is a lazy compilation of 26 chapters chronicling the vicious wonder and brutal beauty of death. The commonplace for the segments in this film it that someone dies in all of them (well, for the most part oddly), the majority of them are dull, and they’re supposedly trying to portray the horror genre. The thing is, not one is scary. They just exploit violence and there’s just a whole lot of blood.

I don’t have much of a problem with violence in cinema when it’s done well; and I really don’t mind gore. I like them both in good movies. This anthology flick is just stupid as anything, and there’s not even a story that ties them all together – V/H/S/ at least has the courtesy to feature a frame narrative. The poster makes it seem like maybe Death himself is reading a bunch of short tales to a weird little baby, but sadly we don’t get anything like that. Instead each short gets separated by a simple fade to a red background with those alphabet blocks kids play with saying something like “A is for…,” and then on to the next one. Anyway, a lot of these are original, and a good change of pace from the usual horror fare, but I couldn’t get into this. But almost every short film in this is very bizarre, and there’s only about five okay shorts, and one really good one.

They are ‘Q’, a mildly clever short where a pair of directors discuss what their sketch is going to be for such a hard letter. They discuss how they’ll stand out, but it’s hard for any of these sketches to stand out because a lot are awful. One actually good sketch is for the letter ‘S’, which is a lot of fun. Mind you, not scary, but it has a really cool atmosphere with some great metaphors and it’s actually really entertaining. It’s the only enjoyable sketch in my eyes. Again, it doesn’t work as a horror sketch – it’s more like an actioner that has hot babes and fast carsThe short film’s plots are mostly dumb, but at least they get to the point quickly; but they have to, each segment is only about 4.96 minutes each on average. The shortest is one called “Gravity,” and it’s the only time I’ve ever wanted to see Sandra Bullock bumping into stuff for a few minutes instead. The one in consideration features POV-style cinematography, which is sometimes a nice change of pace. There’s another point-of-view sketch that’s pretty crappy, too. The one for the letter ‘D’ is told completely in slow motion and is almost entirely pointless, the slow motion just renders it completely empty of any sort-of emotion. It looks good, but it’s just very empty.

One other okay sketch is the death for the letter ‘T,’ which is mildly entertaining (still not scary, mind you) and memorable because it’s told in a cheap-looking claymation. I mean, if I ever take acid and then everything turns into claymation, I’ll stay away from toilets. There’s one sketch that is actually fun, strange as anything because the characters are in animal costumes it seems, but it’s a sort-of fun R-rated Tex Avery battle of sorts during World War Two. It’s for the letter ‘H,’ by the way, but guessing the word might be a fun challenge, so I won’t reveal it. There’s one simplistic but utterly stupid one called “Klutz,” where, to express its stupidity, I’m just going to spoil it. The woman basically dies by the metaphorical hands of a pesky piece of poop that is too stubborn to be flushed down the toilet, and instead teases the woman, sticks to the ceiling, and when she looks on the ground for it, launches itself into her ass and comes out of her mouth, killing her. Seriously, what the f$%k? The animated sketch is so, so awful. The sketch for ‘F’ is equally bad. A few thoughts on the worst sketches: the one for the letter ‘L’ is just disgusting and twisted; the sketch for the letter ‘X’ is a sort-of social commentary of media influence, but I don’t think people are this cruel, at least in my experiences, and it’s a bit too insane for me, but gore lovers will adore this; and the sketch for the letter ‘P’ is a sad story that shows how far someone will go to make money when they’re under pressure, but the finale is heartbreakingly despicable. Moving on…

I think the idea that the producers thought this would be scary is because the premise of death is scary to many people. I’m scared of death, but this is never thrilling or scary – but a lot of this is awful, with only a few decent sketches, and some of them that use an artistic approach to filmmaking don’t make a lick of sense. It’s a shame that a fair deal of the half-decent to bearable sketches come in the second half of the alphabet, because by that time, I found myself counting how many letters are left and checking my phone constantly for how much time remained. This is just an exhausting experience. It might be fun for the horror movie buff who wants something different from mainstream horror, and I think that’s the point.

The thing is, a lot of it isn’t that well-made (but each director from around the world is working on a budget of $5000), and this ends up being less enjoyable than regular horror fare. Though, for those who want to see a bunch of different ways to die, many bland and gory, and a few really twisted, watch it if you must. But this is just one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen. This one is just too twisted and unenjoyable for me, and it simply isn’t very thrilling or scary. Cringe-worthy at times, but something I’m trying to figure out is, could cringing at a horror film truly be considered good horror? At least in this case, I say no. This one’s definitely not for the mainstream audience, so they should just stick to the 1000 Ways to Die TV show. I also hope in the sequel, the directors remember to make their material scary. Keep the same originality and sometimes twisted material, but make it scary, please.

Score: 25/100