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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The Lone Ranger (2013)

The Lone RangerRelease Date: July 3, 2013

Director: Gore Verbinski

Stars: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner

Runtime: 149 min

Do you remember the days of your childhood when you’d invite some friends over, and play a good old game of Cops and Robbers? Or maybe you played Cowboys and Indians. Either way, it’s the same thing. Well, that’s precisely what Verbinski’s latest “The Lone Ranger” feels like. A 149-minute game of Cops and Robbers – only it’s about as entertaining as two friends bickering and saying “No! I shot you first!”

Native American warrior Tonto (Johnny Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Armie Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice.

This isn’t a terrible movie. I’ve seen quite a few terrible films in my day, and I would never call this a terrible movie. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s good or worth anyone’s time, either. It’s an old-school Westerner that has lots of action and humour. But the movie’s purpose is never crystal clear. It tries to be fun and serious all at once, and that muddles its themes of vengeance, justice and greed. It’s a comedy, a dull actioner, and and old-school Westerner all in one. Since it doesn’t seem that even the film-makers themselves know what type of movie they’re trying to make; it surely won’t be clear to the audience.

There aren’t many surprises in this plot. At all. It’s one of those stories that, if you nod off for ten minutes, you won’t miss a damned thing. All of the action scenes are Cowboys and Indians/Road Runner & Wile. E. Coyote styled. By the time the Lone Ranger shouts “Hi-yo, Silver!” I expected him to say “Meep-meep!” instead. This is an exhausting movie that never feels as if it’ll end. The finale could be a romping good time if it would have happened an hour earlier. But by the time the 90-minute mark comes by, it shouldn’t be called the “The Lone Ranger” any longer. “The Long and Boring Ranger” is a more appropriate title. (And that folks, is why I don’t have a future in coming up with movie titles.)

Johnny Depp delivers that same sort-of eccentric shtick he’s been handing out since his Jack Sparrow years. That isn’t saying it won’t be amusing. It’s quite hilarious and he gets some big laughs – and as much as they are wedged in, the laughs become welcome in this overly dull screenplay. The five big laughs that he produces isn’t worth two and a half hours of your valuable time, however. Depp’s performance is becoming less effective since he’s played Jack Sparrow four times, and Tonto once (but it feels like he’s just felt Sparrow five times). He breaks the fourth wall once or twice by recounting his tale to a small boy at a carnival he’s at. He’s in an Old-Western themed attraction, standing in a Native American cubby. Some carnivals like to use wax figures, but apparently others like to use real, ancient-looking Native Americans named Tonto to scare the shit out of kids.

The kid portrayed by Mason Cook (“Spy Kids 4”, “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone”)  is annoying. I don’t know how this kid keeps getting work. I may be biased because I’m not a fan of anyone under the age of ten (except if they’re related to me, or really cute, or animated), but when a child delivers a stellar performance, I’ll praise the hell out of it. (Like Haley Joel Osment in “The Sixth Sense” or the little Pierce Gagnon in last year’s “Looper”.) But if the kid just stands there with a “Oh no mister, say it ain’t so” kinda look on his face, I’ll trash the hell outta it. He didn’t really have to be in the movie at all – and Disney could have saved a lot of money by taking a different route with the story, and not have to use the CGI-aging technology for Depp. (They could have used lots of make-up, though.)

Armie Hammer is nothing to praise. He doesn’t have enough oomph to either make an iconic character feel iconic again, nor does he have enough star power to co-carry a $215-million blockbuster. Depp helps a lot, but even he cannot make this dull screenplay come to life very well; no matter how hard he tries. James Badge Dale feels as if he’s the real star here – but he’s not in enough to make this worthwhile. William Fichtner portrays the shockingly forgettable Butch Cavendish. Tom Wilkinson, Stephen Root and Barry Pepper are ay-okay in supporting turns; and Ruth Wilson is mostly just eye candy.

Gore Verbinski needs to learn the definition of an editing room. I hate mediocre movies that dare run past the 120-minute mark. Quentin Tarantino is easily forgiven for not having stepped into an editing room since 1992’s “Reservoir Dogs”, because his movies are so, so entertaining. Speaking of filmmakers somewhat similar to Tarantino, I could have sworn Helena Bonham Carter stepped onto the wrong set. As soon as she shoots her one-shot pistol attached at the end of her ivory leg, that woman with the machine gun leg from Robert Rodriguez’ “Planet Terror” immediately comes to mind.

One last thing before this review comes to an end, here are just a few theories of where I think the hefty $215 million buckaroos went. All of the big names have to be paid; two trains get destroyed; and there’s an unnecessary usage of CGI-aging technology that could be avoided with rewrites. But I think this where most of the money went: The bird seed needed for the dead bird on Tonto’s head. Seriously, he feeds it and feeds it, and its appetite is never going to be satisfied because the bird’s pretty freaking dead. And do you know how else Disney could have saved a bunch of money? By just not making this mess of a film.

If this is good for anything it’s an eccentric and particularly hilarious turn from Mr. Depp, but it’s nothing you haven’t seen in the “Pirates” universe. There’s also a great score by Hans Zimmer. I’m struggling to think of anything better; and whenver I liked a character, they just got killed off. When this feature gallops on generic blockbuster territory, there’s no saving Reid and his fashionably-challenged pal, Tonto. This could be good fun for the casual movie-goer, but to me, it’s somewhat boring and torturous.

44/100