“Free Fire” is a blast with another top notch Brie Larson performance

It’s a little bit of an understatement to say that filmmaker Ben Wheatley has not made mainstream movies so far. His films are niche items, albeit sometimes incredibly compelling ones. This week, he makes what might be his most mainstream flick possibly, an action comedy of sorts in Free Fire. Although still decidedly independent, this is like the Mexican standoff sequence in Reservoir Dogs, but if that was an entire 90 minute movie. It’s a riot of a film. A literal blast, if you will. Helping to lead the charge is Brie Larson, who seems incapable of not turning in very solid work when the camera starts rolling. She’s just dynamite.

The movie centers around an arms deal gone bad. Taking place in Boston in 1978, two gangs meet in an abandoned warehouse, ostensibly to buy/sell some guns. Set in motion by middle man Ord (Armie Hammer) one side has Justine (Larson) and Chris (Cillian Murphy) among its ranks, while the other has Vernon (Sharlto Copley) leading the way. When a previous incident involving Harry (Jack Raynor) and Stevo (Sam Riley) comes to light, escalating tensions over the wrong weapon being presented lead to an all out gunfight. Literally. Soon everyone is shooting at everyone as all hell breaks loose. Wheatley co-writes with frequent collaborator Amy Jump and directs here, while both share editing duties. The rest of the smallish cast includes Patrick Bergin, Babou Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti, Tom Davis, Mark Monero, Michael Smiley, and Noah Taylor. The strong cinematography comes by way of Laurie Rose.

This flick is a hoot. It has its tongue thoroughly in cheek throughout, though as funny as the film can be, there’s a definite intensity to be found as well. Wheatley shoots the hell out of this one, no pun intended. He and Rose keep it kinetic and creative from start to finish. Occasionally the script by Jump and Wheatley tries to be too clever or twisty, but by and large, it’s lean and mean. There’s a clear Quentin Tarantino vibe to be found here, but it’s a hand that’s never overplayed. In my mind, this is easily Wheatley’s best movie so far.

Here is how I would rank Larson’s ten best performances to date (continuing a trend this week, I know):

10. Greenberg
9. The Gambler
8. Digging for Fire
7. 21 Jump Street
6. The Spectacular Now
5. Don Jon
4. Free Fire
3. Trainwreck
2. Room
1. Short Term 12

Honorable Mentions: Rampart, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, and Tanner Hall

Here also is how I would rank Wheatley’s filmography so far:

6. High Rise
5. Down Terrace
4. Kill List
3. A Field in England
2. Sightseers
1. Free Fire

Free Fire won’t be an awards player outside of an indie ceremony or two, but both Hammer and Larson could be in play later on in 2017. The former has the baity Sundance drama Call Me By Your Name which debuted earlier this year in Park City to some acclaim, while the latter has The Glass Castle. Hammer’s film already has the initial raves and strong word of mouth, but the buzz for Larson’s movie will be there before the year is out. I wouldn’t necessarily bet on either of them getting in at this point, but it’s so early right now that just about anything is possible.

On Friday, audiences will see something just really fun sneak up on them in Free Fire, a rollicking good time. As long as you don’t mind laughing at violence, this should be right up a lot of people’s alleys. It may even wind up a small scale hit. A24 is putting it out in more theaters than you’d initially think, so there’s a chance that the movie does catch on. Regardless, this is a really enjoyable flick that deserves your time and attention. Hammer will be teaming up with Wheatley again next year for Freakshift, so this could be the start of a solid partnership. Stay tuned…

Be sure to check out Free Fire, in theaters starting this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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