It’s easy to dismiss a film like Free Fire. After all, the film does not really fit into the Hollywood action archetype. Instead, Director/Screenwriter Ben Wheatley set out to make his best anti-action movie where he could, alternatively, focus on tension and a more realistic experience for the audience. The result is wonderful. With mounting tension and an all out shoot-out on the way, there is no one person we are rooting for. Instead, we have five or so anti-heroes, all delightfully villainous and flawed in their own way.
Wheatley may not be a household name yet, but with films like this being made, and his willingness to push the envelope it is easy to say something big could be on the horizon for the relatively obscure Director. What carries this film is the characters. The actors/actress chosen to portray his anti-heroes do so well to carry their individual stories along that it is easy to get wrapped up in the drama and start rooting for three or four different people on either side.
Our “story” follows a weapons deal between Frank (Michael Smiley) and Vernon (Sharlto Copley) with their respective crews backing them. We also have two intermediaries involved by the name of Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer) both trying to keep the peace and at the same trying to protect their own interests. As tensions start to mount in this powder keg of a room, the inevitable happens and one side fires at the other. As a shootout erupts, it is one side against the other and it becomes clear that no one is safe. As the numbers start to dwindle, we start to root for one clear party to win over the other, the question is, who will make it out on top, and will anyone make it out alive?
This film is unique in a number of ways. Two particular facts stand out about the inevitable shootout: 1. The shootout is expected and 2. It accounts for 95% of the plot. This was, of course, planned to the “T” and by no means an accident. Wheatley intentionally wanted to make something that had not been done before. Wheatley wanted to make something far more realistic and monumentally less complicated than the big Hollywood action films he had been seeing over the last few years. What he has created here is reminiscent of the time period in which our story takes place, the seventies, where simple characters and grit dictated how a film was shaped. What is perhaps the most incredible thing about the film is just how detailed and meticulously the shootout is choreographed.
The Film 3/5
The film is navigated much like the shootout itself. Each moment feels hectic, personal, and messy. We really never know what will happen next. A huge part of the success needs to be credited to the special effects team who had to work tirelessly on proper timing to make sure each of the hundreds of shots went off at the exact right moment. On set, Wheatley also has an editing station so he could essentially work on the film as it was being made to make sure it came out the exact way he envisioned. Of course, the results are evident. We may not have the most talked about film of the year but what we have is a better overall experience and idea than most of what you will see this year. The quality holds up, for the most part, on the Blu-ray transfer, however, there are some general issues that were bound to come up with the environment it was filmed. I could not help but notice (more so) the dim lighting being a problem during my watch at home, which seemed much less of a problem at the theater. HOWEVER, some of this has to be the age of my television and the black levels that I am constantly fighting with. Luckily, the eccentric wardrobe and colorful scenes do much in the way to distract the viewer of any issues.
Picture Quality 4/5
One of the most interesting aspects of Free Fire is the incredible use of directional audio. At any one given moment, we are immersed in a real time battle royale and it’s convincing because no matter who the camera is focused on we can still hear everyone else. At first, it is not that noticeable, but as the film progresses it becomes one of its best attributes. The audio track boasts the use of Dolby Atmos and it does well here considering the constant gunshots and ricochets at any given moment. Our levels seem fine for home viewing and I experienced no problems with varying degrees from one scene to the next.
Audio Quality 5/5
Free Fire offers a rather nice package for the money spent and when considering the lack of mass advertising and budget for this, I am pleasantly surprised. The artwork is not what I would have chosen for the home release but it does well to stand out and give it a nice retro feel on the front. The whole slipcover, in fact, had a very nice feeling to it and screams high quality. However, they chose to do something that is one of my biggest pet peeves and they cut a hole in the back for the UPC on the case. I can’t help that this decision always bugs the crap out of me, it seems pointless and it is bound to cause problems later on. On the inside, we have an eco case with identical artwork as we see on the outside. The disc is decorated with an opaque gray background and cutouts for the lettering. This seems to be the normal go to nowadays but I will always praise a release that strays away from this decision.
The Packaging 3/5
Here we have a huge missed opportunity, there was sure to be lots of extras that could and should have been included. However, we are left with one, a featurette taking us half-heartedly through the making of the film. There are some cool nuggets of information included in here but, for the most part, I was looking for more. This is a film that is trying to break away from a genre and has plenty of influences they definitely could have done more. The Special features included are as follows:
- Audio Commentary with Director Ben Wheatley, Cillian Murphy, and Jack Reynor
- The Making of Free Fire
- A short featurette that talks about the origins of the films and the detail that went into making it.
Special Features 1/5
Free Fire is a good time, no doubt about it. Packed to the gills with action, blood, and guts, with some great comedic relief thrown in throughout. It is a great attempt to break the norm of what has become the action movie, but the question is…is it enough? Is it sustainable as a new format or even enough for multiple viewings? The answer, in short, is sadly no. That being said, this film is worth the watch and to be able to experience it so fresh is wonderful. Some of the moments in this film will stick with you for some time for pure originality in filming. However, it just misses the proverbial fences of breaking the mold of the Hollywood action flick and we will not likely see many films like this again. What I like the most is when I see major named players like Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, and Armie Hammer taking a chance on a somewhat out of the box picture, it’s refreshing to know that first and foremost some actors/actresses care about intriguing stories. You can purchase this edition HERE.