[Screen It]


(2017) (Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson) (R)

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Crime Thriller: Two rival crime gangs meet in a Boston warehouse circa 1978 and end up getting involved in an all-night gun battle.
In late 1970s Massachusetts, a couple of Irish gangsters named Frank (MICHAEL SMILEY) and Chris (CILLIAN MURPHY) seek to purchase a truckload of firearms from South African arms dealers Vernon (SHARLTO COPLEY) and Martin (BABOU CEESAY). They are joined by Justine (BRIE LARSON), an intermediary for the Irishmen, and Ord (ARMIE HAMMER), a suave, smarmy American frontman for the arms dealers. No one trusts anyone.

Nevertheless, a deal is agreed upon and money is about to change hands. But then a preexisting feud between two foot soldiers on each side of the deal, hotheaded junkie Stevo (SAM RILEY) and trigger-happy driver Harry (JACK REYNOR), turns very violent, very fast, and a gun battle erupts. Everyone takes cover, as some of the players are shot. No one fatally at first.

But the longer the night goes on, the more people join the firefight like the tough-talking Gordon (NOAH TAYLOR) and the hired muscle, Bernie (ENZO CILENTI). The struggle to get to a phone in a distant, upstairs office to call out becomes a matter of life and death.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I like the idea of "Free Fire" WAY more than I like the film. Actually, I didn't care for the film all that much. But I was really pulling for it to be good going in. I wanted it to be a throwback not to the 1970s time period depicted in the film, but to 1990s indie cinema where crime thrillers had to have compelling characters and crackling good scripts to make up for their lack of budget. As a critic, I cut my teeth on flicks like "Reservoir Dogs" and "The Usual Suspects," two films "Free Fire" desperately wants to be mentioned in the same breath with. Well, I am mentioning them. Unfortunately, the mention goes something like this: "It ain't as good as those movies!"

Still, the central idea for the flick is a sound one. Two rival crime gangs meet in a warehouse in late '70s Massachusetts seeking to complete an illegal arms deal. Neither side trusts the other, so they employ a couple of intermediaries in the form of slick boy Ord (Armie Hammer) and straight-arrow negotiator Justine (Brie Larson). But unbeknownst to all of the players, two foot soldiers each belonging to the other gang (Sam Riley and Jack Reynor) have gotten into a bar fight the night before over one man maiming the other man's female cousin. When the two see each other in the warehouse, a fight ensues, the guns come out, and the bullets start flying.

The film runs about 90 minutes, and about 70 of those minutes are the shootout with various lowlifes staying low to the ground, crawling, skulking, and angling to get better shots. Pretty much everybody takes a bullet or two or six at some point in the film. But it's all about -- or should be about -- the witty repartee they all share between shots.

That's where the film comes up short. Screenwriters Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley just don't have the gift for gab that Quentin Tarantino or Christopher McQuarrie have. The opening scenes of the flick are the most important, because they are meant to set up the characters. But those first 10 or 15 minutes are full of wandering accents -- from Sharlto Copley's South African to Cillian Murphy's Irish to several variations on the Boston accent. The profanity is way off the charts, too. It's as if everyone has been trapped in PG movies for years and can suddenly curse, so they put an F word or other profanity into EVERY sentence.

And the shots start firing way before we care about ANYONE in this flick. So, the whole rest of the movie just becomes a spectator sport. The only way to root for anyone is to have some leftover affection for who they were in previous movies. "Well, I liked Armie Hammer in 'The Man From UNCLE' and 'The Social Network,' so I guess I'll root for him to be the last man standing here." Or, "Hey, Brie Larson really was cute in 'Kong: Skull Island' and '21 Jump Street.' I'll pull for her to get one over on the boys."

But as the film went on and the shootouts became more repetitious, I found myself caring less and less. I only looked forward to the cast being whittled down to corpses so the whole thing would end and I could leave. Every once in a while, you do get a funny line or a creative kill. But it's not enough to give this movie misfire a recommend. I can only give it a 4 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed April 13, 2017 / Posted April 21, 2017

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