UK Release Date: 31st July 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 and, when everything goes wrong, the bullets fly at a rapid rate.
One of the joys of Free Fire when it hit cinemas earlier this year was the way it gave Ben Wheatley access to a cast of Hollywood stars without diluting his idiosyncratic directorial style. On the face of it, it’s a straightforward action movie, albeit a high-concept one set almost entirely within a dusty, dirty Boston warehouse – actually shot in Wheatley’s hometown of Brighton. However, Wheatley and his screenwriting partner/wife Amy Jump imbue the movie with whip-smart humour, but also an array of surprisingly genuine moments, from pistols jamming to the fact no one can shoot straight. It’s a film that is both utterly outrageous and surprisingly realistic.
Irish terrorists Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) have arranged with go-between Justine (Brie Larson) to buy a cache of assault rifles from Boston arms dealer Vern (Sharlto Copley), with the help of his enforcer Ord (Armie Hammer). Everything is going smoothly, albeit with a little bit of tension simmering below the surface, until Vern’s driver Harry (Jack Reynor) claps eyes on Frank’s associate Stevo (Sam Riley), with whom he had an altercation the night before. Gunfire ensues.
On a second viewing, Free Fire is even more of an exhilarating ride than it was first time around. Regular Wheatley cinematographer Laurie Rose really shows the grime and dirt of the setting, while the sound design ensures that every gunshot is felt. Characters don’t go down after one clean shot – they suffer flesh wounds, get hit with ricochets and completely fail to successfully kill each other. Everyone in the movie takes a bullet at least once and they all also have a sense of humour. It’s an incredibly weird dichotomy between the realism of the gunplay and the fantasy of the fast-talking quip artists lurking behind every chunk of cover.
That bizarre tonal discrepancy wouldn’t work without the stellar work of the cast. In the biggest and brightest role is Sharlto Copley as “international asshole” Vern, who wears a Savile Row suit and speaks almost entirely in rhymes, puns and catchphrases. He has a brilliantly tetchy chemistry with Armie Hammer’s ice cool tactician and the way Brie Larson elegantly bats away his sexual advances is just wonderful. Larson, in fact, brings the gravitas of an Oscar winner to every frame of Free Fire, holding her own valiantly in a room full of testosterone and toxic machismo.
Free Fire is not a film with masses of plot, focusing on the stripped-down gunfight setting throughout with very little deviation. There are a few narrative twists and turns behind what’s happening, but they peter out in the final act, as if Wheatley himself is less interested in the motivations and minutiae than he is in kicking back and revelling in the fun of the quickfire action. This kind of manic energy doesn’t quite sustain the entire 90 minutes of the film, but there’s enough intensity and comedy to keep things moving along at a decent gallop.
As much as Free Fire was a powerful sensory experience in the noisy environs of the cinema, it’s the comedy that really comes alive when you watch it on a smaller screen at home. Copley alone gets at least half a dozen unforgettable lines and just about every character gets at least one line that you’ll be quoting repeatedly once the credits roll. Compared to the thematic depth of some of Wheatley’s other work like High-Rise and A Field in England, this is a rather slight experience, but it’s one that’s never anything other than very enjoyable.
There are fun, but brief interviews with Wheatley, Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley as well as a making of documentary that actually sheds reasonable light on Wheatley’s impressive degree of planning – as well as him allowing himself to be run over by a truck. There’s also a director’s commentary with Wheatley and a handful of the stars.
Pop or Poop?
Ben Wheatley has produced another wonderful cinematic triumph with Free Fire, which seems like the epitome of a director letting his hair down and producing something that is pure wish fulfillment. He gets terrific performances from his cast members – most notably a slimy Sharlto Copley and a pleasingly feminist Brie Larson.
It’s a little slight and the constant gunfire is a little less effective on the small screen but, for the most part, this is a fun movie night in the making.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Free Fire is available on download in the UK now and from August 7 on Blu-ray/DVD, courtesy of Studiocanal.