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Soundtrack review: Free fire (Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Free fire (Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury – 2017)

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Bold, breathless and wickedly fun, FREE FIRE is an electrifying action comedy about an arms deal that goes spectacularly and explosively wrong. Acclaimed filmmaker Ben Wheatley (KILL LIST, HIGH RISE) propels the audience head-on into quite possibly the most epic shootout ever seen on film as he crafts a spectacular parody –– and biting critique –– of the insanity of gun violence. Everyone’s got a gun, and absolutely no one is in control.
Set in a colorful yet gritty 1970s Boston, FREE FIRE opens with Justine (Oscar® winner Brie Larson), a mysterious American businesswoman, and her wise-cracking associate Ord (Armie Hammer) arranging a black-market weapons deal in a deserted warehouse between IRA arms buyer Chris (Cillian Murphy) and shifty South African gun runner Vernon (Sharlto Copley). What starts as a polite if uneasy exchange soon goes south when tensions escalate and shots are fired, quickly leading to a full-on Battle Royale where it’s every man (and woman) for themselves. Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury wrote the score.

I know these guys from their very good “Ex-machina” score from a couple of years ago but I am sure a 70s action movie will sound quite differently and I want it to sound like a 70s gritty action movie because the smooth jazzy 70s sound is one of the best. This soundtrack release is quite complex with 42 cues that include score, songs, and voiceovers by the cast and this makes getting a cohesive score only listening experience a bit difficult. But I am ready for the funky 70s goodness and it doesn’t take more than a few seconds for me to already be bobbing my head and mimicking guitar moves when “Sledgehammer cracks nuts” (nice cue title, by the way) starts playing. Not jazzy smooth but this is the 70s rock sound I know so well. No worries, “Docks beat” brings the soft percussion and quirky jazz I was waiting for. Like I said making a coherent score listening experience is a bit hard and can get frustrating especially since I am not familiar with the movie or the quotes.

Setting all this aside, the music brings me right back to that decade; I get a bit of the unique and unmistakable Lalo Schifrin tense 70s music in “Harlequins reunion” in which I am half expecting to see Bruce Lee pop up. The composers did their homework for this one as every second of score sounds as it should for a movie that takes place then. Even the slow and romantic guitar cues fit because they make me think of Morriconne’s music; “First shot” brings back images of Clint Eastwood in his poncho and hat. There are score cues shorter than 30 seconds, experiments or sound effect which add to the oddities of this score. I finally get a healthy dose with “Phone rings” and it only makes me want to hear more with the psychedelic keyboard and all.

“Free fire” is a musical ratatouille but if you can get through the quirky movie quotes, sound effects and songs you will get a 70s score that you haven’t heard since the 70s; the two composers nailed the sound, the mood and the music in tension, action and romance and I am left at the end of this score wishing it was longer and less fragmented because it could have become a classic. Give it a listen because you won’t regret it.

Cue rating: 88 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 19 / 30

Album excellence: 63%

Highlights:
Money Count (Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury)
Harlequins Reunion (Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury)
First Shot (Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury)
The Phone Rings (Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury)
Crawl Chase (Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury)
We Can’t All Be Nice Girls (Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury)
Leary (Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury)
Oh Fuck [Explicit] (Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury)
Justine’s Theme (Geoff Barrow & Ben Salisbury)

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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