British writer-director Ben Wheatley concocts perhaps his most accessible film to date after cult favourites such as Kill List and Sightseers. Lyndon Wells takes a closer look at his “film of 2017” so far…
Set in 1970s Boston, Free Fire begins as Irishmen Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) arrange to buy guns from Vernon (Sharlto Copley) in a deal set up by Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer) in an abandoned warehouse. However, a grudge between two participants leads to a gunfight… And that is the whole plot. The film’s drama is drawn from what happens in this warehouse and who shoots at who and what happens as they grasp for guns whilst hindered by their copious flesh wounds.
Sounds simple – it’s not. This is my favourite film of the year so far and everyone needs to see it. I haven’t had this much fun at the cinema for such a long time. One of the film’s many strengths, compared to this age of bloated overlong blockbusters, is the succinct running time that leaves you wanting more. There are laughs a-plenty as the gun battle plays out and each character gets their own moment of ludicrous reaction.
Shartlo Copley, complete with his hilariously thick and natural South African accent, regularly steals the film. It’s been a long time since I have come out of a film quoting some of the best lines immediately, but Copley’s delivery of choice cuts such as “watch and Verne” and “protection from infection” are embedded now as part of my witty repertoire of favourite movie quotes. I am often suspicious of people claiming they could go straight back into the cinema and watch a film they’ve just seen again, however because of the utter enjoyment and economic story telling in Free Fire, I could with Wheatley’s effort.
Armie Hammer stars as the cool Ord, more interested in beard oil than a gunfight you feel he could easily win. His A-list credentials are on full show here. He is clearly a leading man full of charm and charisma that was burnt by his Lone Ranger experience. I hope his career reaches the heights it deserves. Sam Riley as the obligatory drug addict family member does have an interesting accent that swings between Boston and New York but, has plenty of great character moments along with Jack Reynor and Cillian Murphy. As the gun fight continues, characters even question who are they meant to be shooting at as motivations become murky. Brie Larson is far from a damsel-in-distress, more than holding her own in this 70s gunfight as the only female character.
This is the director’s Reservoir Dogs with a more humorous edge. The gunfight itself is brutal and realistic as many take flesh wounds so have to drag themselves around. The sound editing and mixing of the film is masterful as the bullets whizz past. As we watch characters on screen we can hear others in the background reacting and interacting in real time. The use of space available is great as the dusty environment causes guns to jam and it makes you feel part of the chaos surrounded by fizzing bullets.
Ben Wheatley is easily one of the best directors working today. Writing this film with his partner Amy Jump, Free Fire is Wheatley’s reaction to all the current over-the-top action films he had seen recently with his teenage son. He decided to make a more realistic and streamlined piece of work, full of flawed characters and humour. His back catalogue is extremely eclectic. I also highly recommend the disturbing thriller Kill List, the black comedy Sightseers, the trippy A Field in England and the visually arresting High Rise. This is a director that refuses to be pigeonholed, making films his way at an extraordinarily fast rate and high standard.
It’s not a masterpiece but it is riotously fun and fitting antithesis to High Rise. The camerawork is often hyperactive to keep up with the bullets and cartoon levels of visual humour, and all in a snug 93-minutes leaving very little chance of bloat. This is Wheatley’s most mainstream work and my favourite of his. It will be tough to find a film this year as quite as enjoyable as this.