Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Jack Reynor
Review Author: Tony
Any cinephile worth their salt knows of Ben Wheatley, one of the most popular British directors right now. Wheatley started turning heads with the haunting and unforgettable Kill List, seriously if you haven’t seen it put it at the top of your list. The interesting thing about Wheatley is that each film he makes fits into a different genre and yet all have that distinctive Wheatley stamp all over them. His films have proven to be rather polarizing and divisive among critics. Last years High Rise was particularly contentious for critics with many on each side of the fence.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of Wheatley and his work with partner and writer, Anne Jump, so hearing that their next collaboration was a 70’s bottle, shoot em up comedy was music to my ears. Everyone loves a good shootout but to focus a whole film solely on a single continuous shootout is a huge task. I’m a sucker for bottle films. 12 Angry Men, Phone Booth, Locke, Buried and Reservoir Dogs are all riveting pieces of cinema driven by a handful of central characters and pure acting ability, it’s acting at its rawest.
The majority of the film takes place in a warehouse in Boston in the 70’s where two IRA members, Chris (Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are looking to acquire weapons. Justine (Larson) is an intermediary on their behalf to negotiate the trade while Ord (Hammer) is a representative of the unstable weapons dealer, Verne (Copley). Proceedings are almost instantly escalated when it is revealed that Verne is providing the wrong weapons that Chris and Frank ordered. Setting aside their squabble, both parties agree to the trade but not before two of the background goons, Stevo and Harry, come to blows over events the night before. Suddenly the warehouse becomes a war zone as each party scrambles to take cover whilst firing potshots at each other.
As I just mentioned the key to success with a bottle film is the cast. They are the main driving point of the movie and if even one character is out-of-place or not engaging then the suspension of belief evaporates. Thankfully Free fire has a colourful cast of degenerates and scumbags played by some of my favourite actors such as Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley and Brie Larson. Copley steals the show as the psychotic Verne, his performance is so wonderfully ham-fisted and zany I found myself laughing at his every word. Sam Reilly is now on my list of actors to watch as I adored his character Stevo, the unforgivable junkie scumbag who produces some of the biggest laughs of the film.
The editing is second to none here as every gunshot had me wincing and squirming in my chair. There’s so much entertainment in seeing each character being shot to bits and end up progressively worse as the film goes on. Never before has misery been so funny.
Unfortunately, as much as I enjoyed the majority of this singular gunfight it begins to drag by the mid-point of the film and I really started to feel the films run time. Free Fire only clocks in at 90 minutes and yet in the middle, I felt like I was sitting through a two-hour movie. Personally, it’s an issue I find hard to admit as I’ve such admiration for Wheatley for taking on a challenge like this, we need to encourage directors to branch out and try new things even if they don’t always hit the mark.
Free Fire is a fun film which aims high and just falls short of greatness. The characters are hysterical, the shootout is, for the most part, great and the 70’s Tarantino vibe is a colourful setting and visually pleasing. Wheatley and Jump continue their streak as quality filmmakers and I look forward in anticipation to their next outing.