Sound of bullets

A fun shootout movie of epic proportions

Starring Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson and Sharlto Copley. Directed by Ben Wheatley. Cinemark 14. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

Bullets whiz, whistle and rip with a darkly comic ferocity in Free Fire, the latest from little-known yet super-talented English director Ben Wheatley.

Wheatley has quietly been establishing himself as a solid indie director of action and horror with obscure gems like Sightseers, High-Rise and A Field in England, along with one of the better installments in the horror anthology The ABCs of Death.

With Free Fire, Wheatley employs his action-directing prowess alongside sharp dialogue and snappy acting. He’s working with his biggest cast yet, one that includes an Oscar winner in Brie Larson, along with Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy and Sharlto Copley.

The film is co-produced by Martin Scorsese, and the setup sounds like the sort of movie he should be making. Two groups come together in a deserted Boston warehouse sometime in 1978. One group is looking to buy some guns, and the other is trying to sell some. The buyers are led by Chris (Murphy), an Irishman who is very particular about what he wants from the deal. The seller would be Vernon (Copley), a weasel with a few tricks up his sleeve.

Chris’ party includes Justine (Larson), a contact who helped make the deal happen. The man bringing it all together is Ord (Hammer), a slick dude with a big beard and nice suit, much nicer than Vernon’s. He gives off the confidence of a guy who has done a thousand arms deals before, so this should be a routine exchange, right?

Nope. Tempers begin to flare when two people from opposing parties turn out to have a history. A tussle ensues, and escalates, then a gun comes out. As it turns out, nobody is going anywhere because this is a shootout movie that takes place basically on one set.

Wheatley’s staging of the elongated shootout is reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs and some of the great scenes in Heat. Everybody takes a bullet—or bullets—in the battle, but death never comes easy. As somebody who gets shot in the head remarks, “I’m not dead … I’m just regrouping.”

A lot of credit goes to the audio department for the sounds of bullets traveling through the air and hitting their targets. I don’t think I’ve heard bullets whistle like they do in this movie. It’s a new sound, at least to me.

Hammer is an underrated actor who has a knack for playing bad guys who are charming, a power he turns on full throttle for Free Fire, along with his comic timing. He gets laughs when he and the characters around him are all bleeding to death—no small accomplishment.

Larson is the lone woman in this mass testosterone flare-up, and while she is among a group of jerks, she might be the biggest asshole of the bunch. Copley gets his best role in years as the fast-talking jackass who causes trouble just by walking into a room.

There’s some mystery involved in the payoff, but it’s secondary to the action, which is appropriately disorienting at times. Throw in an extremely well-placed John Denver song and you have what amounts to a solid, eccentric step in the evolution of a white-hot director who is just getting started.