Blu-ray Review: Free Fire

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Director Ben Wheatley's Free Fire has a great trailer. For about two-and-a-half red-band minutes, we get non-stop flashy action that promises a zippy cinematic experience. We also see some real actors among the cast, including Oscar winner Brie Larson, future star (if he can find a good movie to star in) Armie Hammer, Neill Blomkamp fave Sharlto Copley, and the best-ever DC Comics' Scarecrow, Cillian Murphy. Trouble is, there's nothing more to the full movie. After a brief set up, in which the various participants of a arms deal are established, it's one absurdly protracted shootout. 
rsz_free_fire_shooting.jpg That's not to say there aren't some fun moments. But they arrive early and pass quickly as the cast banters and bickers in advance of the gun play. The buyers complain that the weapons presented for purchase are the wrong ones. Larson's Justine, the lone female in either group, wards off advances from her testosterone-driven associates with dry wit. A scuffle breaks out over one guy's mistreatment of another guy's cousin. So far, so decent. Had Wheatley opted to build upon the characters, he might've achieved his desire to create a poor man's Tarantino flick. Why not at least get to the halfway point before letting the bullets fly? But these filmmakers aren't that patient, leading to an hour-long stretch of choppy, often disorienting bang-bang moments that unfold in one isolated warehouse setting.

Looking for non-stop, pulpy action thrills? See Edgar Wright's relentless, inventive Baby Driver. That movie has sharp dialogue, intense performances, and—this is key—variety in its action scenes, even despite the fact that they're all car chases. Free Fire, on the other hand, is hampered by claustrophobia as its characters hunker down behind concrete blocks and fire off shots. one after the other. We learn a few minor bits and pieces about the characters, but mostly it's as if Wheatley loved the ending of True Romance (or something similar) so much, he decided to make a whole movie out of it. After a short while, it becomes difficult to care a whit about what happens to any of these characters. 
rsz_free_fire_group.jpg Now available on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate, the technical specs are rock solid—even for a relatively low-budget production. Visuals are gritty and crisp, even though most of the action unfolds in relatively low-lighting situations. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix is likely to induce a headache (which I think was the point) with its relentless barrage of shots fired (and ricochets, etc).

To be fair, despite not finding an audience in its wide theatrical release (it opened on 1,000+ screens at number 17, with under a million in receipts), quite a few critics found Free Fire agreeable. It currently stands as "Fresh" with a 67 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So what do I know? If the trailer catches your eye, give it a shot. The Blu-ray includes audio commentary by director Ben Wheatley, joined by cast members Cillian Murphy and Jack Reynor. There's also a 15-minute "Making of Free Fire" for a peek behind the scenes.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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