Screen Savor: A "Free Fire" in the Belly

Sharlto Copley Brie Larson Armie Hammer in Free Fire

Sharlto Copley Brie Larson Armie Hammer in Free Fire

From the greasy dudes there for muscle and the local deal-makers (Armie Hammer, Brie Larson) to some worldwide parties, including two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley), it's a group of folks given to paranoia, profanity and hair-trigger responses. So far we've seen Logan, a film in which Hugh Jackman eviscerates an endless number of grunts with his claws; Kong: Skull Island, a film in which a giant monkey and demonic lizards massacre a bunch of soldiers and scientists; The Fate of the Furious, a film in which a bunch of a family of auto thieves-turned-international operatives kill a bunch of "separatists" in Russian Federation; and John Wick 2, a film in which Keanu Reeves kills everyone.

Early reviews have made much of how amusing and zany it is, but to me the relentlessness of the film overshadowed its comedy and made it feel honest, scruffy, and, more than anything, self-aware. Two, I do concede there's a lingering possibility that various factors of our hypermasculine society have conditioned this 24-year-old penis-haver to be particularly engrossed by action movies.

As more and more movies feel way longer than they should, here we have Free Fire to remind us that 90 minutes is a perfectly acceptable - and in many instances preferable - running time for a feature-length film.

But "Free Fire" isn't lacking in the most important elements: bullets, guns, and 1970's fashions.

The riotously shambolic fallout risks becoming a bit too messy at times - even the characters themselves admit that they're confused about what they're doing at one point - but Wheatley and Jump continue to prove that they know their way around a small space (and their way around some delightfully dark humor) with a tight script, sharp direction, and inspired choreography. But unlike in the average mainstream tentpole of today, the viewer must actually reckon with the fact that this havoc is being perpetrated by and on characters with names and faces. When Vernon's guys, who were waiting outside, bring in the shipment, one of Chris' helpers, Stevo (Sam Riley), recognizes a member of Vernon's team, Harry (Jack Reynor).

Instead, people get maimed, bloodied and dead. Things ignite into an all-out battle royale of bullets and gunfire that comprises the entire remainder of the film.

The comedy comes often but not always as witty as this comment about one of the ringleaders: "Vernon was misdiagnosed as a child genius and never got over it". As it is? Yeah, I really dug it. "It was really messy". I don't think I've ever simultaneously winced in pain and laughed this much in any movie before. Decked out in a suave turtleneck and heaps of facial hair that make him look like an extra from "Anchorman", Hammer's Ord dazzles the group with blasé, erudite commentary as he takes them to an abandoned warehouse where the deal is supposed to go down. He's essentially answering hypotheticals: Can I take everyone's favorite sequence from Heat, extend it nearly indefinitely and keep people from getting bored before the final shot rings out? Easily one of the most exciting filmmakers working today, United Kingdom division, Wheatley started out specializing as a genre splicer: kitchen-sink realism meets mob story (Down Terrace); hitman thriller turned warped WTF horror (the instantly classic Kill List); a serial killer romcom (Sightseers). So many films forget that and end up essentially showing us prose we can watch. Unfortunately, the charismatic characters and their sometimes enjoyably combative dialogue are overwhelmed by the monotonous gunplay. "He's not a hero, he's a murderer'".

Free Fire has many things going for it... In my mind, this is easily Wheatley's best movie so far. "In a genre sense, it's like, Why do you like it, why are you enjoying it?". After that, you'll start looking for reasons why I said what I said.