Free Fire isn’t fun exactly, though it played out with a continuous laugh track from the people in the row behind me, all of whom should probably be on some kind of watch list. There’s something uncomfortably ridiculous about someone struggling to avoid being run over by a guy he just tried to shoot, but it’s not laugh-out loud funny to watch - and hear - someone’s head being squashed flat under a tire.
Like a lot of weirdly good movies I’ve seen lately, Free Fire is something I could respect without wanting to watch again. It’s completely faithful to its own goofy idea, and even if we don’t really get to know the characters, they’re all recognisably individual people. Well, mostly recognisable. There are moments when the staging, the scenery and the dust get in the way of figuring out just who’s taken another flesh wound.
Flesh wounds are everywhere, mostly for plot reasons. If the cast could run, they’d run out of the warehouse, so it’s important to the plot that everyone get some kind of wallop to slow them down a bit. From about half way in, pretty much everyone still left alive is squirming and crawling through the rubble. But still game, and still magically finding enough bullets to go on potting each other. Hollywood runs on a two-tier model for gunshots usually; mooks fly through the air instantly dead if a gun goes off anywhere near them, and anyone on the poster just shrugs off direct hits from bazookas. Meanwhile, in the real world, the infamous North Hollywood shootout demonstrated that you can get shot again and again and keep getting on with business until you finally bleed out. Free Fire goes that way.
And it gets weirdly samey after a bit. It’s not quite boring, but it’s relentlessly one-note. So, although I’m glad I saw it, it’s not something I need to see again. It’s not quite successful as a movie because it doesn’t quite have a story, just an inciting incident after which two gangs slowly shoot each other to bits til the cops finally show up.
On the other hand, it did feel just like a game. If we had a bag of 1970s looking figures in dodgy beige (and one blue suit!), we could put on a game just like it, since so many of our skirmish games seem to turn into pointless bloodbaths where both sides keep shooting until there’s no-one left standing. Of all the movies I’ve seen lately, Free Fire is the one you could most easily turn into a small war-game.
Other stray thoughts; this is the second thing I’ve seen Brie Larson in within the space of a week, and I don’t know what to make of her career plans. She may be trying to carve out a niche as “smart woman who hangs out with nitwits in gun battles” or she may just be taking every job that comes her way. Armie Hammer has always annoyed me a bit, but it turns out that if you give him a beard and make his character actually annoying, he turns into Canadian Jon Hamm and becomes both fun and charismatic. Sharlto Copley, on the other hand, is beginning to make me think that he’s only acting when he tries to play sane people, which now that I think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him do. He’s the target of one of Brie Larson’s best lines, when she introduces him sotto voce to Cillian Farrell “Vernon was mistakenly diagnosed as a child prodigy, and he’s never recovered.” We’ve all known someone like that, though most of them don’t show up in electric blue suits with a truck load of assault rifles to sell to the IRA.