After "Pulp Fiction" came out in 1994, action films were basically reinvented for years to come. As soon as Quentin Tarantino unleashed his masterpiece, filmmakers attempted to capture that same lightning in a bottle by making movies combining sudden violence with characters spouting pop-culture heavy dialogue over hyper-stylized imagery.
Films including "Things to do in Denver When You're Dead," "8 Heads in a Duffel Bag," "2 Days in the Valley," "Go," "The Big Hit," "Love and a .45" and dozens more tried so hard to capitalize on the new cinematic movement that for years the entire genre felt completely facile. While some of the Tarantino-esque copies were pretty entertaining, none of them were game changers in the same way "Pulp Fiction" was.
"Free Fire" is a throwback to those mid-'90s Tarantino knockoffs, but also manages to feel like an homage to gritty 1970s crime dramas such as "The French Connection" and "The Conversation." Even though the film wears its influences proudly on its sleeves, "Free Fire" isn't interested in winking at the audience and celebrating how much fun everyone should be having. It has a story it wants to tell and doesn't waste a second telling it.
A small group of IRA (Irish Republican Army) fighters meets some arms dealers in an old abandoned umbrella warehouse in order to buy some guns. One of the sellers has a beef with one of the buyers from a drunken evening the night before and everything spirals violently out of control. That's it. Within 20 minutes, everyone is shooting at everyone else and bleeding like crazy from minor wounds all over their bodies while shouting profane and goofy dialogue across the massive warehouse floor.
Director Ben Wheatley is destined for greatness. Over the last few years, he has become an original voice without once coming even close to repeating himself. "Kill List" mashed up a violent hit man movie with a nightmare-inducing cult flick, and "High Rise" felt like a hybrid of the bad dreams of David Cronenberg and Stanley Kubrick. Wheatley's masterpiece is still "A Field in England," a psychedelic historic horror war movie about a few soldiers tripping on mushrooms in a field that will warp your mind inside out.
I'm calling it now: a decade from now, Wheatley will be one of the most respected directors on the planet.
"Free Fire" doesn't reach the heights of "Pulp Fiction" or even some of its imitators, but it's an extremely entertaining ride. The film's biggest issue comes from the thinly drawn characters who don't have much motivation outside of wanting to leave the warehouse alive with guns or money. Great actors including Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and a scene stealing Jack Reynor help add a bit of classiness to the proceedings.
Even though "Free Fire" really shouldn't work, it mostly manages to be a memorable action movie. It won't win any awards, but it's not really after that. The entire movie is Ben Wheatley's attempt to prove he can sustain a gun fight for over an hour without it becoming boring or repetitive. With that, '90s action/comedy lovers have something to rejoice in again.
Dir. Ben Wheatley
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX