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Action movies set in singular locations have been popular since Die Hard established the framework for it back in 1988. Since then, there have been dozens movies that could be described as “Die Hard on a (fill in the blank).” Popular examples include “Die Hard on a boat” (Under Siege) and “Die Hard on a bus” (Speed). The new action comedy Free Fire also takes place in one location, but this time it would be difficult to compare it to Die Hard, because there is no one worth rooting for this time around. Just a lot of criminals with a lot of guns in a confined space.
With the exception of the opening minutes, the entire movie takes place inside one Boston warehouse. Two groups of criminals are meeting there to execute a gun deal. Although tensions are high, it looks like the deal might just get done without any incident until a past altercation throws the entire proceeding out of whack. It is every man—and one woman—for themselves in what becomes a free-for-all shootout.
The lack of a definitive good guy for the audience to root for is not the only element that separates Free Fire from the more typical action movies. In fact, the movie does not even feel like an action movie. There are plenty of bullets ricocheting around the warehouse, but there are no large action set-pieces. Director Ben Wheatley puts the emphasis less on the action and more on the movie’s quirky cast of characters and what might happen if you throw this eclectic group of characters into a large room filled with weapons and let them go at it.
Wheatley reportedly built a scale replica of the set within the video game Minecraft in order to block the action, which makes perfect sense given the blockiness of the movie’s setting. The characters hide out behind boxes of guns, crumbling cement pillars, and even the blocky-looking van that drove the weapons into the warehouse. All the careful planning still led to a movie that is difficult to follow geographically. We know that certain characters are hiding behind a certain pillar while others are behind the van, but it is a challenge to keep track of where the van and the pillar are in relation to each other within the building.
Although there is no specific hero character to root for, that does not mean the movie is filled with characters we dislike. The movie fills its warehouse with a diverse group of personalities, some we dislike, but some who are a lot of fun. The closest we get to having someone to root for is the lone woman in the film, Brie Larson’s Justine, because she seems to have the best head on her shoulders and seems intent on making sure that the deal goes as smoothly as possible. Armie Hammer’s smug, vain, and cool-under-pressure Ord has some great moments, while Sharlto Copley has a lot of fun as a character who is described as having been “misdiagnosed as a child genius and he never got over it.” Another character has a showcase of a scene in the middle of the film, but to reveal which character that is ahead of time would be to ruin it.
Free Fire is a lot of fun at times, while at others it struggles to keep up the pace. There are sequences, particularly earlier in the film, where there is not much going on in the warehouse while the various characters continue to feel each other out. But even while those earlier moments struggle to maintain our interest, the latter half of the movie certainly brings it all back to an inevitable, but still surprising end. And it certainly brings more originality than most of the average action movies bring to the table these days, and originality will always win a movie points in my book.
Free Fire is rated R for “strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references, and drug use.” The language is consistently rough and the violence gets more graphic as the movie goes along, making the R rating well warranted.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Free Fire.