UK Release Date: 31st March 2017
Runtime: 89 minutes
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Michael Smiley, Jack Reynor, Sam Riley, Babou Ceesay
Synopsis: A group of useless arm dealers meet a group of equally useless terrorists in a Boston warehouse and, when everything inevitably goes wrong, the bullets fly at a rapid rate.
Ben Wheatley can never be accused of doing the same thing twice. Since his kitchen sink thriller Down Terrace hit screens in 2009, Wheatley has made a hitman thriller with a supernatural horror twist, a serial killer comedy set on a caravan site, a hallucinogenic black-and-white meander through the English Civil War and an impenetrable JG Ballard adaptation set in a hedonistic nightmare. His latest is something lighter – a knockabout action-comedy featuring the world’s most useless arms dealers. There’s just as much death and destruction as before, but this time around, it comes with the smile and sense of fun of a filmmaker recharging his batteries and cleansing his palate.
IRA buddies Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) meet with impartial mediator Justine (Brie Larson) and negotiator Ord (Armie Hammer) en route to a Boston warehouse where they are planning to buy assault weapons from flamboyant South African arms dealer Vern (Sharlto Copley). Everything appears to be going smoothly until a scuffle takes place between Vern’s driver Harry (Jack Reynor) and Irish gang member Stevo (Sam Riley), following the revelation that the two had met the night before. One of the guns inevitably goes off, fracturing the fragile peace and causing an enormous shootout.
It’s fair to say that Free Fire is not a thematically dense work and, coming off the back of A Field in England and High-Rise, it feels like Wheatley loosening the reins and making something more accessible and fun. Shot in the sunny city of Brighton, doubling for 70s Boston, this is a single location action movie that revels in the inherent presposterousness of one, enormous big screen shootout playing out in almost real time. This isn’t a clean and glamorous Hollywood shootout either. This is a fight in which everyone takes multiple bullets, no one can shoot straight, weapons jam and the most extreme pain comes from bumping into stuff.
In amongst all of the gunfire and crunching close combat, there are huge dollops of comedy in the script co-written by Wheatley with his scriptwriter wife and regular collaborator Amy Jump. Sharlto Copley is at the heart of much of this, with his heavily accented performance that is packed to bursting with wordplay and silliness. Armie Hammer, too, gives a great comedy performance and Jack Reynor gets a selection of great lines, enhancing the comic credentials he showed in Sing Street.
None of the characters in Free Fire are afforded much in the way of depth and, if there’s a fatal flaw to the movie, it’s that it could’ve done with at least a shred of character for the audience to cling onto. Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy come closest to this, with roles played a great deal straighter than the rest of the ensemble. The inklings of a relationship between the two are nicely played and Larson, in particular, does an admirable job of attempting to hold the movie together.
Free Fire, though is about style over substance and that’s not necessarily a bad thing given the keen sense of internal geography Wheatley establishes and the brilliantly grimy visual style that his regular cinematographer Laurie Rose is able to create, without losing any of the distinctly 70s bright colours and funky facial hair. Unfortunately, 90 minutes of carnage and quipping is not quite enough to sustain the film and, as a result, it feels like a minor entry in the Wheatley canon. It is, however, one of the more purely entertaining movies of the year and, if it introduces the mainstream to one of the best British filmmakers working today, you can’t say fairer than that.
Check out the sidebar to the right for a chance to win a bundle of Free Fire goodies!
Pop or Poop?
Ben Wheatley has conjured up an adrenaline blast of popcorn cinema, which is a thrilling non-stop action sequence populated by a series of hilariously incompetent criminals who no one would trust with a pair of scissors, let alone an arsenal of high-powered guns.
Sharlto Copley is the comic MVP and Brie Larson continues to be quietly brilliant, but a shred of character and a bit more of a plot would not have gone amiss.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.