FREE FIRE: I always figured that Robert Rodriguez (DESPERADO) and Quentin Tarantino’s (PULP FICTION) filmmaking styles combining violence with tongue-in-cheek comic one-liners would spawn any number of creative copycats. The latest entry is co-writer/director/editor Ben Wheatley’s exhilarating shoot ‘em up about a weapons deal between an Irish Republican Army arms buyer (Cillian Murphy) and a South African gun runner (Sharlto Copley) that goes very wrong very quickly. In fact, a shootout between the two sides occupies a significant portion of the movie such that the participants are all initially shot in either the leg(s) or shoulder(s) to insure that they bleed but survive throughout the film to keep on shooting. That’s all that’s needed to explain why you won’t see any character development, plot or back stories in any parts of the screenplay. But that isn’t to say that it’s a bad film because it isn’t. Unlike JOHN WICK: CHAPTER TWO, the violence here isn’t choreographed as much as it’s controlled and directed by Wheatley (KILL LIST) whose use of gunplay keeps the flick moving at a breakneck pace. After a while, you realize that it really doesn’t matter if you can’t recall whose side anyone is on because the realization that only one person or no one will come through this alive emerges as an indisputable truth. As nihilistic and self-indulgent as this movie is, it’s also a helluva lot of fun. Set in ‘70s Boston, it evokes the tone of gritty works from that era like THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE (1973) and MEAN STREETS (1973). The musical soundtrack isn’t always on target but I have to say that I’ll have a different outlook (in a good way) on John Denver songs because of this film. If the most useful achievement accomplished by a movie critic is to get the general public to see a movie they might normally overlook, I will try to make good use of myself and steer you to this one.

CRITIC’S GRADE: B+

DOUBLE FEATURE: You would think a movie about a zoo in Warsaw being converted into something of a way station to smuggle Jews out of Nazi occupied Poland would land plenty of emotional punches. But Angela Workman’s script for THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE is so workmanlike that it squelches the impact of a powereful story adapted from Diane Ackerman’s best-selling novel. Despite an earnest performance from Jessica Chastain (ZERO DARK THIRTY) as the title character, the film comes off as oddly detached from its subject matter.

CRITIC’S GRADE: C