Movie Reviews: Free Fire and The Lost City of Z

Free Fire

Cary, NC – Free Fire is a darkly comic crime thriller about a gun deal gone bad. The film, directed by Ben Wheatley (High-Rise), is deceptively simple. Taking place almost entirely in a single warehouse, the film is basically one long shoot-out between its characters. Thanks to its razor sharp script and willing and hilarious cast, Free Fire proves to be a breezy and highly entertaining time at the movies.

Great Action Comedy From Unknown Director

It’s likely you haven’t seen or even heard of director Wheatley or his films. Kill List, Sightseers and High-Rise all feature the same dark humor but also run the gamut of genres form horror to existential drama. Wheatley likes to challenge his audiences, and if you’re willing, it’s always a unique experience.

Free Fire is his most mainstream movie to date but he hasn’t sacrificed any of his usual style. Starring Brie Larson (Room), Armie Hammer (The Social Network), Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) and Sharlto Copley (District 9), this is also Wheatley’s most impressive cast and they are all having a great time. Hammer in particular shows off a surprising amount of smarmy charm. He’s had a rough time capitalizing on his blistering turn in The Social Network, but I’m hoping that turns around because time and time again he has shown he has the charisma and talent to stay around for a long while.

Acting and Writing Razor Sharp

One of Wheatley’s greatest strengths is writing despicable characters that you somehow still like, or at least root for. In Free Fire, everyone is a criminal, making it all the more impressive that Wheatley once again pulls it off. Larson is the closest thing to a good guy here, but overall it’s every person for themselves. The film also isn’t afraid to hurt or kill characters off, so it’s constantly surprising to see who is still around and who has bit the dust.

Worth It

Overall, Free Fire is a hilarious action comedy fueled by its great script and performances. It’s nice to get a movie like this especially before the onslaught of summer blockbusters (though I am getting excited about those too). Free Fire is definitely worth the trip.

The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z (pronounced “zed” in this case) is the true story of one man’s transformation from an adventurer to an earnest scientist with an intense faith in humanity. And with breathtaking production designs, you may feel as if you’re being drawn into the jungle with the characters.

Realistic Look

The Lost City of Z spans almost two decades as it tells the story of Major Percy Fawcett, a British soldier sent to map the border between Peru and Bolivia in the early 1900s. But while this starts as a simple expedition, Fawcett sees both the human rights abuses of indigenous people in South America and evidence of ancient civilizations there that pre-date the British empire. While we may take evidence of the Incan, Aztec and Mayan cities for granted today, back then no European or American expeditions had yet to even make it to Machu Picchu.

What follows is Fawcett’s repeated trips to South America or “Amazonia” as he calls it. The whole environment feels real, with wild animals, the buzzing of bugs, rich green vantages and roaring rivers. And it runs along a spectrum from human misery in the jungle, reminiscent of Werner Herzog’s Aguirre, to beautiful sights that fill you with wonder at the natural world.

And director James Gray (The Immigrant, We Own The Night) shows design range, moving Fawcett between South America to a very stuffy royal British environment to the burning battlefields of World War I, with the latter creating a moving contrast between the manmade danger of war and the natural danger of the jungle.

Strong Leads

Almost as impressive as Z‘s setting is its cast. Charlie Hunnam plays Fawcett and while you might not guess it from his roles in Sons of AnarchyPacific Rim and the upcoming King Arthur movie where he fights CGI monsters with a magic sword, he pulls off an incredible role here. Hunnam’s Fawcett has a very stereotypical proper British outlook but that quickly gives way to nuances, particularly as he struggles in the wilderness in South America.

Even more shocking is Robert Pattinson of Twilight fame. He completely sheds his appearance to play Fawcett’s aide de camp and melts into his role. Pattinson has shown his acting chops in recent years and Z is further proof he should not be pigeon-holed.

There are other strong supporting performances, including an unexpected turn from Tom Holland, aka, the new Spider-Man, as Fawcett’s son, but with a movie that spans so many years, they come and go. One unfortunate note is there is little done with the indigenous characters in the movie. Much of Fawcett’s journey is supposed to highlight the humanity and civilization of the people native to South America but we very rarely hear anything from them.

Worth It

If you are a fan of history or adventure, The Lost City of Z is right for you. It is refreshing to see a story of “exploration” that does not dehumanize the people living in places Europeans “discover” and the production design is so realistic, you’ll think you’re dying of dehydration with the rest of them.

Jordan Hunt reviews movies for CaryCitizen. Read more Movie Reviews. Photos from Facebook (Free Fire/The Lost City of Z).