Free Fire is the second Brie Larson movie of 2017 in which the actress calls home to a romanticized 1970s.
In which her look and disposition are an awful lot like one of Charlie’s sexy, smart angels; in which Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through the Jungle” plays during a pivotal scene. The other film is Kong: Skull Island.
There are a lot of differences between the pictures, like the fact that Kong is a monster movie and Free Fire is a genre exercise Walter Hill might have thought up around the time he made The Driver (1978). But there’s an additional, more obvious difference, and the difference is that Kong is a good movie.
Kong was uninhibited and proudly over-the-top, but Free Fire is noisy and monotonous, an action movie that finds a single gun battle stretched out for the duration of a feature length. And it’s a bore. Shot without the zip necessary to complement the rhythms of its butchery (it’s a bombardment of close-ups and slow-mo that prevent the mushrooming of any sort of tension), it’s illogical and uninventive, not only misusing the capabilities of its talented ensemble but also marring the filmographic momentum set in motion by its director Ben Wheatley’s last feature, High-Rise (2015).
Granted, High-Rise wasn’t a good movie, either; it was a knot of ambitious ideas and stunning visual patina with better aesthetic sense than storytelling cohesion. But it had memorable style and undeniably inspired craftsmanship, and announced Wheatley as one of his generation’s most exciting artists.
Free Fire, like High-Rise, was co-written by Wheatley’s wife, Amy Jump. But it marks a reversal. Aside from the American Hustle (2013) gaudy clothing and its keeping up with the Tarantino trend of playing nostalgic, musical cheese over scenes of violence, it has little to offer by way of plotted excitement or optical flare-ups.
For 90 minutes, we sit through a gun fight kickstarted by an arms deal gone wrong, with big names Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, and Sam Riley among the individuals fighting for their lives (and the case of cash offered for the weapons).
But the movie is no more than that, and is, disappointingly, aggressively lifeless. None of these characters are developed enough to ensure we strain ourselves in our worrying whether they live or they die. Connections aren’t clear and the designated sides are fuzzy. Even the actors appear to eventually tire from spewing Jump and Wheatley’s witless dialogue.
We’re acutely aware that Free Fire’s makers were going for a genre film to be compared to Assault on Precinct 13 (1976), confined to one setting and little else besides a simplistic but effective dosage of thrilling pulp. But the writer and director of the latter, John Carpenter, cranked up the tension and drew characters we could immediately recognize and with whom we could empathize. Wheatley and Jump just figure colorful characters shouting expletives and shooting guns whilst clutching various injuries are enough. They aren’t.