Saturday, April 15, 2017
Rapid Reviews: Free Fire and Going in Style
One of the hottest headliners at this year's SXSW Film Festival was Ben Wheatley's action-comedy shootout flick, Free Fire. Unfortunately, the crowds were too overwhelming, so I took my movie-watching schedule in a different direction that day. But now, a month after missing out on it's United States premiere, I nestled in for an advance screening of Free Fire and enjoyed Wheatley's most simple and cohesive narrative to date.
In late 1970s Boston, Justine (Brie Larson) brokers a weapons-swap in an abandoned warehouse between Northern Ireland fighters in search of assault rifles to bring back home, and a local gang looking to unload illegal arms for cash. But after members of each of these groups recognize each other from a falling out the previous night, tensions begin to mount and eventually erupt into a chaotic gun battle for survival. With some alliances stronger then others, and a back-stabbing group of rifled snipers entering the fray, it's a wonder if anyone will make it out of this mess alive.
While I'm mainly familiar with director Ben Wheatley's two most recent works, High-Rise and A Field in England, he's definitely a polarizing filmmaker who possesses clear talents. In this upcoming title, Wheatley trades uniqueness for convention and sets out to deliver a fun and energetic action-comedy, something he accomplishes with remarkable ease. Co-writer Amy Jump and Wheatley team up to mold an assortment of quirky characters that add a zest to this cacophony of gunfire and madness. Sharlto Copely provides a majority of Free Fire's encompassing comedy, while Cillian Murphy truly transforms his Northern Irish character into a film-favorite by giving soul to an open-ended creation from the writers. Co-star Armie Hammer also shines in a cocky and arrogant role that always suits him extremely well. And just as the numbness of gunfire sound effects begins to take its toll, Wheatley quickly wraps up his work with a rather bittersweet conclusion. Yet, once I thought I had the finale figured out, one that seemed remarkably satisfying within the confines of my own imagination, we're thrown a curve-ball that feels cheap in the moment, but more acceptable in retrospect. Free Fire isn't a must-watch, but it's certainly an entertaining piece of action-comedy that doesn't disappoint.
Stars: 2 and a half out of 4
It's hard to believe that it's been 13 years since Zach Braff proved he's more than just a comedic sitcom actor with the uber-personal indie drama, Garden State. Yet, it took Braff an entire decade to follow up his successful debut with 2014's Wish I Was Here, which opened to harshly mediocre reviews. But the director is on the rebound in surprisingly quick fashion with a reboot of the late 70s caper comedy, Going in Style.
Willie, Joe and Albert (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine and Alan Arkin, respectively) are best friends enjoying the carefree lifestyle of retirement together. Until one day, when Joe visits the bank and learns that his mortgage rates have spiked to a level far too high for him to keep up with, leaving the retired grandfather with only 30 days to save his family's house from foreclosure. Adding insult to injury, the company which Joe, Willie and Albert devoted a lifetime of work to unexpectedly freeze their pension payouts, prompting the elderly trio to hatch a bank-robbery scheme in order to stay afloat financially for the rest of their days.
Zach Braff and screenwriter Theodore Melfi (co-writer and director of this past year's Best Picture Nominee, Hidden Figures) make a valiant attempt at crafting a light-hearted, feel-good comedy film. Instead, Going in Style serves as a miscalculated and emotionally-bland endeavor that hopes to masquerade re-hashed geriatric jokes as a form of relevant humor. Just to be clear, these shortcomings certainly doesn't rest on the shoulders of the film's well-chronicled veteran actors, who each provide a fully committed performance, they're sadly a product of Melfi's superficial screenplay and Braff's obsessive desire to capture the classic caper "style". In conjunction with a crop of vastly underdeveloped lead characters, Going in Style merely unveils its bank-robbery scheme via a brisk and uninformative montage that completely undermines Braff's clear dedication to the genre. It's unfortunate, but I'm starting to doubt that we'll ever witness a level of filmmaking and subtle storytelling from Braff that was so evident in his iconic debut.
Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4