I’ve been in the mood for some old fashion crash-bang-pow movie fun lately. So, I was rather excited – there may or may not have been a happy dance performed in my living room – when my screening email listed both Fate of the Furious and Free Fire. Both were slatted as action movies featuring gun fights, and inexplicably ridiculous dialogue opportunities; just what the doctor ordered.
I went into Fate of the Furious, wondering what in hell else they could possibly think up to put this crew through and well, Duane Johnson and Jason Statham. I can see you rolling your eyes from here. Shut it. They’re both loud, brash, braggadocio, fighting fit, and more than willing to make fun of their own stereotypical personalities for perfectly timed (and needed) laughs. The movie’s been out over a week some I’m feeling alright about discussing it with a little detail but I’m not going to unpackage the movie because I’m not a arseface.
In my opinion, Fate does an excellent job of finding a plausible thread to not only pull together all the previous movie plots but nicely stitches up all the outlying pieces of these character’s narratives. Introducing Cipher played by the delightfully sociopathic – I referring to the character I swear – Charlize Theron provides the opportunity to bring the heists all the way into contemporary times (if you don’t know what a zero-day exploit is look it up then be afraid. Be very afraid) and providing the opportunity to retire characters past their usefulness namely, Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson). Roman has managed to not grow up even a little in eight movies. Both his dialogue and contributions to the team are stilted and unnecessarily distracting. He stopped being funny in Brazil honestly. I really, really wanted him to die.
Ok, some of my Roman-hate may be due to the fact his character mirrors a misogynistic shallowness that is actually part of Tyrese Gibson’s real life persona and it increases my desire to see him throat punched. Seeing him repeatedly and ridiculously put in harm’s way and overtly disparaged for “not making the cut” was delightful and welcome. This franchise knows he’s past his sell-buy date. He didn’t die but it was obvious he was surplus to measurements in a way that was satisfying to see. For an installment in a franchise that’s all the way out in left field by now, Fate has a surprisingly cohesive and logic based script. I mean, we’re not searching for the god-particle here, but the story makes sense given the journey these folks have been on. It’s simple, straightforward, and if you thought about it for five minutes you know exactly what would make Dom willingly betray his family and what lose end exist in this universe could be best used to drive such a motive then you already know why he acts like a bad guy before you sit in the seat. I laughed, I called bullshit on stunts, I added a few flowery insults to my repertoire, I had techno-envy (I want to live on that airplane far, far up in the sky), the fights were good – even if not plentiful – shit blew up and they lived happily ever after to have another family barbeque.
But let’s be honest, when a franchise has gone so far afield of the original premise that they needed to blow up a submarine to go bigger (seriously, a submarine) it may be time to consider retooling. The franchises that know when the time is nigh and jump on it are the ones we, the audience, continue to forgive for being ridiculous and stay faithfully in our seats for the next trip down the light fantastic. Fate seems to know that time has come. Kurt Russell’s Mr. Nobody and Deckard Shaw and Luke Hobbs are the natural go-to characters to pick up the banner laid down by Dom, Letty, and the rest of the crew. We already know who they are, their credibility and place in the universe well established and each brings a new type of energy and opportunities for capers, double crosses, and shenanigans to the mix. Seeing them shift to more dominate roles in the movie was happy-making for more than one reason.
Given the genre and type of movie Fate is, imagine my surprise when I heard more than one movie-goer lamenting the lack of depth in the story as we exited the movie theater. As I walked to the lobby (biting my tongue), all I could think was what the hell were you expecting from a movie about a bunch of illegal street racing thieves who managed to thwart no one but two international crises and avoid any major jail time or everyone dying? I moved away quickly. My bank account says I don’t have bail money for lobby fights because I told someone they need to pull their head out their arse… out loud. Are there better action movies? Yes. Can I name more than ten movies with better dialogue? Yes. Are there action movies where the characters have more complex motives that play out in the story arc to great effect? Yes. Has this franchise ever been one of them? Negative. Do I give a damn when I came to watch shit blow up? Nooooope. If I was rating it I’d give it a 3.25 out of 5, a very low B.
Side note: if you make it through the scene where Hobbs coaches his daughter’s soccer team without laughing, give away your AMC Stubbs card because you’re a philistine who should never get a free upgrade to large again.
I don’t know any other way to describe this movie without spoiling than: This is shit that happens when you take a junkie to a gun deal…
I’m still not too sure I’ve unpackaged all of what I watched but I was completely engaged and amused beyond belief. The action is fast, the dialogue quick and witty, the humor is off color and dark and the story subtle yet simplistic. It’s a standoff. That’s right, the entire movie is crafted around a standoff between two opposing sides trapped in a dirty-ass, dank warehouse. Old School Tarantino would be proud.
Set in 1978 Boston (with the John Denver tracks to prove it) Justine, played winsomely by Brie Larson acts as the “middle man” for a gun buy between IRA members Chris (Cillian Murphy at his deadpan best) and Frank (Michael Smiley), who’ve paid Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) to act as drivers to transport the guns and gun dealers Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Martin (Babou Ceesay). Ord (Armie Hammer sporting a beard and turtle neck that would make the 70s proud), is a representative for the gun dealers coordinating the meet.
Since this movie just released on the 21st (April) and I really want people to see I can’t say much more so I’ll leave with this recommendation, As Sharlto Copley’s character Vernon says at one point, “[go] feast your eyes.” If you need to know what I’d rate it, I’d give it a 4 out of 5; it’s a solid A.
When I got stuck behind another similar “where’s the depth” conversation while waiting in the checkout line the day after seeing Free Fire all I could think was, you clearly don’t buy the right movie snacks if you had time to look for existential meaning in a movie about a gun deal gone sideways…
Now, don’t get me wrong, Free Fire has a plot with twist and turns aplenty. Its value is in the wit, seeming mayhem, and utter weirdness of every scene as it unfolds. It’s not trying to lead you to some great awakening or realization by the end. It’s an in-your-face-action movie but you’ll realize after its over there’s nuance and flair throughout keeping it from being obvious and adding to the overall fun. Free Fire’s smarts sneak up on you after the bullets stop flying, the dust settles, and the screen fades to black. My fellow movie reviewer, Anthony, over at the Silver Screen Analysis, does a great job of talking about the set up more in depth without spoiling a thing.
Given that post-viewing feeling I could only ask myself when did people stop appreciating a good action flick for being just that? Life in 3D is more than willing to constantly bombard you with problems and dilemma’s that require you to bring all that you are to bear in order to persevere. When did people stop using movies to escape the drudgery? Whhhhhy does everyone need everything spelled out for them in big “THIS REALLY HAS MEANING” size letters before the intrinsic value of a thing is good enough?
Somewhere along the line people stopped admitting to going to the movies for the fun of it. Not to see the next thing likely to win an Oscar or to be on the right side of that art house documentary everyone’s talking about. For fun… fantastical, guns blazing, screams and shots, dirty jokes that aren’t low brow, if you blink you’ll miss the twist good old action, I don’t need to write about my feelings fun.
I don’t know about you but, sometimes I just need a movie that’s only purpose is to give me permission to suspend a few scientific rules, lighten my mood, move me to laughter, possibly confuse the heck out of me, present the incredible as possible, the ridiculous as reasonable and funny as hell; in short to entertain. People, read more; that way you don’t suck all the fun out of movie going. It won’t kill you to have to admit you didn’t learn anything.