“Free Fire” Sees Wheatley At His Most Accessible But No Less Idiosyncratic

Free Fire, Ben Wheatley’s bloody action thriller, is the writer-director’s most accessible, but no less idiosyncratic, film to date. The film stars a wonderful ensemble including Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, and Cillian Murphy.

Free Fire is the film Quentin Tarantino might make with the aid of a script editor and some self-control. Instead, this kinetic, hyperreal celebration of action cinema comes from the hugely talented British director Ben Wheatley, whose eclectic work is distinguished by an acerbic humour, a subversive appreciation of generic convention, and the incendiary use of violence to turn mundanity upside down.

After the critically acclaimed High-Rise and arthouse favourite A Field In England, Wheatley had manoeuvred himself well outside the mainstream. But Free Fire is sure to bring him back in. Still, this ensemble shoot ‘em up is characteristically inventive, constraining scope and scale to a single warehouse location and boosted by the energy of its wonderful mix of self-serving gangsters amid a chaotic, bullet-riddled bloodbath.

Free Fire’s simple set-up (an arms deal-gone-sour) is carried through the film’s efficient runtime as Wheatley, along with co-writer Amy Jump, concentrate their character development in between gunfire through an elongated middle act that sees the conflict twist and turn as the blood loss grows.

Once the action gets going, Wheatley has no intention of hitting the off switch until the credits begin rolling. He opts for a cartoonish approach, the stage drowned in an orange glow from artificial light. The stone floor, from which the protagonists take refuge once the shooting starts, has a layer of dust and dirt that reminds of the desert and perhaps the Western roots of Wheatley’s “high noon” showdown.

But it’s the bickering between the ensemble shooters that elevates Free Fire. There are many stand outs – Sharlto Copley’s arms dealer, Armie Hammer’s muscle, Sam Riley’s bloodied antagonist, Jack Reynor’s bespectacled driver – and each actor has a debt to a script which finds time to give every character the idiosyncrasies that define them. What’s striking is how the drama plays out ostensibly within one extended action scene.

The ending might be predictable, the premise open to nitpicking, and the initial incendiary plot device forgotten amongst the chaos but Wheatley’s streamlined action thriller is a richly satisfying affair. It’s surely his most accessible film to date without losing any of the characteristics that make his creative niche tick.

free fire, film review, four stars

Written by Dan Stephens

Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Written by: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor
Released: 2016 | Genre: Action
Country: UK | IMDB

More reviews: Latest | Archive

Top 10 Films reviewed Free Fire on DVD courtesy of Studiocanal. The film is release on Digital Download from July 31. It is available on DVD and Blu-ray from August 7, 2017.

Dan Stephens
About the Author
Dan Stephens is the founder and editor of Top 10 Films. He's usually pondering his next list, often inspired by his adoration for 1980s Hollywood, a time-travelling DeLorean and an adventurous archaeologist going by the name Indiana.

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  1. Callum Reply

    The Reservoir Dogs comparisons are there but I loved this one. It was smart, funny and fast moving with a good bunch of memorable characters.

  2. Mark Fraser Reply

    I recently saw this in the cinema and one of the things that struck me was the fact people seemed to force themselves to chuckle (out loud) when Sharlto cracked a joke. I don’t mind the man, but I think Cillian Murphy should have received top billing, and that’s not just because he’s one of the survivors – he and Armie are the best things in this. I was hoping they would have had that drink; certainly such a moment could have yielded some interesting dialogue – plus it would have made the ending less Reservoir Dogish.

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