Boston, a dark and unwelcoming warehouse, sometime in the 1970s. Enter a wide array of characters: two Provisional Irish Republican Army members, a female middleman, a gang associate named Ord and a raucous South African arms dealer. In “Free Fire,” writer and director Ben Wheatley combines the ingredients of humor and shameless violence to cook up a highly entertaining and happily nostalgic film which parodies, through its own distinct lens, an era of gangster epics. The bullets fly like a Tarantino movie and the jokes are fired one after the other — a canon of stand-up comedy routines.
“Free Fire” is an explosive story built on a relatively simple premise — an arms deal that goes horribly wrong. It surpasses its straightforward plot with a delightfully picked cast and their ability to unveil a sardonic humor in seemingly serious moments. Just when the situation appears to be resolving itself, someone else gets shot in the leg, forcing them to crawl across the floor for the rest of the film. It’s as if the characters intentionally avoid killing each other to prolong the suffering — and provide the audience with sadistic comic relief.
One of the film’s strongest features is its versatile and diverse cast. Brie Larson as Justine often acts as the voice of reason, the mediator between the buyers and the sellers. Armie Hammer’s Ord is the sarcastic associate to the arms dealer. Vernon, played with a brilliant exaggeration by Sharlto Copley, is the standout performance. Cillian Murphy is Chris, the IRA member and one of the only level-headed characters. By placing such opposite personalities in one warehouse, Wheatley creates an environment where problems are bound to arise — and the audience loves it.
The film’s soundtrack is essential to the story. While the original music composed by Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury fits perfectly, the most memorable piece is a surprising classic — John Denver’s “Annie’s Song.” When the credits roll around, the song — and its association with the story — will forever be implanted into the memories of the audience.
Most of the time, “Free Fire” is absurdly hilarious, hitting every mark and executing each punchline with impeccable timing. However, if there’s one thing lacking in the film, it is that it leaves the audience wanting more. While it’s extraordinarily funny, the feeling of joy is transient and doesn’t stick with the viewer after the screen fades to black. Nevertheless, while the antics continue, the audience still grasps onto a sense of pleasure and unabashed amusement in the increasingly unlucky situations the characters find themselves in.
“Free Fire” is a peculiar, yet refreshingly original homage to 1970s action flicks. Driven by its eccentric group of characters and hilarious dialogue, the film infuses dark humor into a supposedly bleak circumstance. It thrives between outright violence and an ideal balance of physical comedy that doesn’t punish the audience for laughing at the unfortunate pickle the two gangs have cornered themselves in.
“Free Fire” opens in theaters Friday, April 21.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 17 print edition.
Email Daniella Nichinson at [email protected]