The 400-Word Review: Free Fire

By Sean Collier

April 21, 2017

Captain Marvel's gonna smush the Scarecrow.

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When films take place entirely in one location, they often end up feeling like theater — narratively satisfying and yet somehow un-cinematic.

That’s not the case with Free Fire.

Because, while the intimate action flick does take place entirely in and around an abandoned warehouse (and in real time, yet), there’s simply no way to imagine this orgy of gunshots, fisticuffs and disasters occurring on even the most technologically powerful proscenium.

The plot couldn’t be simpler. There’s one group — among them are characters played by Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy and Sam Riley — that needs some guns. There’s a middle man, played by Armie Hammer. There’s another group — the roster here includes Sharlto Copley and Babou Ceesay — that has some guns. Some very big guns, as it happens.

They meet to conduct a sale. Things go awry. Drama!

On the one hand, this jarring nail-biter of a film is something of an unlikely marvel. Directed by Ben Wheatley, who also wrote the film with Amy Jump, Free Fire is a welcome alternative to the wealth of globetrotting action flicks that insist on infinite setups, lightning-quick sequences and a thousand cuts. Here, we are in one place and we stay in one place, and a full story is told. (This also allows for the always-welcome pleasure of trying to determine who will be the last ruffian standing.)


On the other — yes, it drags. Not because there’s anything inherently flawed about the story or the setup, but rather because the bullets fly a bit too freely a bit too early on. It feels that a whole half of this movie is people crawling and shooting; it would’ve worked out a bit more neatly if a few more characters had managed to avoid bullets to the leg until later in the proceedings.

And undoubtedly, some will decry the lack of character development, particularly in light of a few figures who look like they wandered in from another film; Larson and Copley are the most charming and simultaneously the most out-of-place. (And it should go without saying that this is not a film for those who abhor gunplay.)

There’s an undeniable thrill, though, in the moment of realization that occurs early in Free Fire: “This whole movie is going to take place in this one room,” you’ll think to yourself. “That’s awesome.” And, for the most part, it is.

My Rating: 7/10

Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at



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