In 1992, a breakthrough revolutionary film called Reservoir Dogs was released to the public. That movie took the idea surrounding several bank robbers meeting up at their saehouse after a heist goes terribly awry for reasons that we’re not fully aware of until the film progresses further. Alliances are made, rivalries begin and lots and a lot more dialogue and zippy one-liners rip around the room as opposed to actual bullets and yet people often remember it as a bloody and violent Tarantino flick. Why do I mention all that? Well, this film reminded me a lot of RD in the sense that it takes place in one location (and a similar one at that), features an otherwise routine criminal situation going awry with a misunderstanding but in this case we kinda do know how we got there and how we leave the situation.
Of course, I’m talking about the brand-new film from director Ben Wheatley entitled Freefire. In the movie, we are told that two groups of people are meeting up at a warehouse to conduct some type of firearms sale. One side consists of level-headed IRA members Chris (Cillian Murphy) (who is basically the makeshift leader of the outfit) and grizzled Frank (Michael Smiley) along with dim-witted “muscle” Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) while the other consists of South African arms dealer Vern (Sharlto Copley), his associate Martin (Babou Ceesay) and two “delivery men,” Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor). In the mean time, a tall Brad Pitt-looking fellow by the name of Ord (Armie Hammer) and a beautiful young woman named Justine (Brie Larson) act as intermediaries. Miscommunication occurs when Harry accuses Stevo of doing something inappropriate to his cousin, which led to a previous altercation the day before this and it leads to a massive shoot-out, which takes up the remaining time in the film.
Yes, this film is essentially one big shoot-out. Whereas Reservoir Dogs was all about making you wait for the bits of ultra-violence that would only appear briefly and off-screen on many occasions, this one is chock-full of bullets whipping through the air and very clever quips thrown at each other by the performers on-screen. Yet, for a movie that spends 62 minutes of runtime on a shoot-out in a warehouse, it is never derivative or boring in any way. This has a lot to do with the direction of Ben Wheatley. I read in an interview with the director that they spent months mapping out the geography of the scene (using Minecraft!) so no one would feel ‘cheated’ about where characters would end up and it wouldn’t feel like people were just flying all over the place. The film could’ve easily failed and ended up either slow and repetitive or nonsensical and it does neither.
Chalk some of the successes of the film up to the performances as well as everyone seems to be having a lot of fun here. It would be impossible to highlight everyone but make no mistake about it: there are no weak links in this cast. Cillian Murphy is a great leading man. Sharlto Copley is always tremendously interesting to watch on-screen whether he is playing a hitman trying to kill Matt Damon in Elysium or a friendly robot who is easily coerced in Chappie, he always makes each performance unique and it never feels phoned in at all. Brie Larson is another delight as the sole female castmember of the film and holds her own. Her facial expressions are so powerful. Armie Hammer reminded me of a young Brad Pitt in his strikingly handsome poise and the way in which he carries himself throughout the film. Sam Riley is also a hoot as a junkie named Stevo; he even starts doing smack in the middle of this dangerous situation in one of the film’s funniest little asides.
I don’t know how else I can describe the film without listing play-by-play bullet points of the shoot-out scene because that is essentially two-thirds of the movie. Another thing I did appreciate is how the ‘honour amongst thieves’ ideal is thrown out the window. We constantly see Vern and his men turn on each other, sometimes for only a few minutes because one is annoying the other, sometimes shooting each other in the arm or leg just to be a dick. The film doesn’t waste its time with anything but the main plot either; there is subtle hints at a romantic subplot but as soon as the bullets start flying, that is (at least temporarily) put on the back-burner. You get some great bits of dialogue with many of the criminals almost becoming self-aware at times, mentioning mundane details while their very lives are at stake.
The film is everything I expected and more; it’s a great deal of fun and features some terrific performances across the board. This is one of my favourites of the year thus far.
RATING: **** ½
Less than * (Actively offensive to one’s intelligence)
* (Brutal; bottom-of-the-barrel)
** (Some elements keep it from being awful but still not very good)
*** (Completely watchable; a rental as old-timers might say)
**** (Great film with a few things here and there keeping it from being perfect)
***** (Flawless; a true achievement)