‘Free Fire’ delivers laughs through violence

Tyler Manning

Brie Larson in Free Fire (2016). Photo courtesy of IMDB

I love going to the movie theater. I know that it is incredibly expensive, people are loud, it can be kinda gross, etc. These are all valid criticisms, but I feel like they often turn our attention from the real point of the theater. To me, the theater is an experience. You never have the same movie theater experience more than once. I have had a wide range of experiences with movie theaters from witnessing two men get into a fight during a Marvel movie to bawling my eyes out with five other people during a touching indie flick. There are some movies that are meant to be experienced in the theater; movies that play well with an audience and unite its viewers in shared emotional reactions. Free Fire is one of those films.

When I watched Free Fire this past weekend, I was surprised to come to an almost empty theater of around six people. Given that the film just came out, I thought my friend Jackson and I were going to have to settle for bad seats towards the front. However, this did not detour from the viewing experience and almost in a way enhanced it. Free Fire is an incredibly funny, well paced movie that had the whole theater unified in constant laughter.

After giving this film second thought, I saw elements of it that could have held the movie down but didn’t: lack of a clearly defined main character, mixing of contrasting tones, and a narrative that ultimately revolves around a singular conflict. The film itself still managed to stay engaging and fresh throughout. I ultimately attribute this to a few reasons: strong sense of vision, a good screenplay, and great performances.

It is common for filmmakers to use the styles of other filmmakers that inspired them in their films. Free Fire was clearly inspired by other great filmmakers such as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese (who was also executive producer on the film). When watching this film, I got the sense that this was the story that director Ben Wheatley wanted to tell. He had a clear and direct vision for what he wanted to film and did just that. The film never felt inconsistent and had a fun and kinetic style that served the material well. In my review for the film The Belko Experiment, I pointed out how the contrasting tones of humor and violence in that film were not handled well and ultimately took me out of the movie. This I feel is due to differing visions between writer James Gunn and director Greg McLean. Some films can benefit from having multiple different ideas at play; however, in this case the unified singular voice worked well.

What also helps enhance the style of the film is its wittily written screenplay. One can see the influence of such screenwriters as Quentin Tarantino and Aaron Sorkin in the dialogue. Vocal interplay between characters is fun, fast, and humorous. Characters are constantly quipping and each characters dialogue feels natural to who they are as a person. The dialogue gives off a sense of realism and authenticity as they talk over each other. All of the conflict in this film revolves around contrasting motives. This is how you do proper action comedy that feels natural and organic. Maybe whoever writes Kevin Hart’s movies can learn a thing or two from Free Fire.

This film also greatly benefits from the wonderful performances from its ensemble cast. Each actor feels like an absolute fit for their roles. They all work incredibly well together, playing off each other with great fluidity. Everyone has their own moment to shine and they only elevate the film’s great writing. I would point out who I felt were standouts of this film, but honestly everyone holds their own and gives a great performance. If any actor were subbed out of their role, I truly feel that the movie would be lesser.

I have been greatly impressed the caliber of films that studio A24 has put out in the past couple years. Films such as The WitchMoonlight, and now Free Fire all have been great pieces of art with their own distinct styles. Free Fire is a great example of how vision and focus can turn a movie that could have flopped into a fun, engaging movie that plays well in a theater setting. I strongly urge you watch this in your local theater.

Rating: 8/10

Still out in local theaters.