This article was originally published on 18th October 2016 following it’s showing at the 2016 London Film Festival
Director: Ben Wheatley
Stars: Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley
Released: 31st March 2017
Oh Ben Wheatley. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Down Terrace, Kill List. Sightseers and now, finally, Free Fire.
Shooting his films, his way is something Ben Wheatley does with uncompromising and unnerving consistency.
The frequency and quality of his output may be the envy of filmmakers and this crafty litter number feels like a conclusion to a series of high concept, lo-fi films (against standards similar films), which have all in their own way squeezed every drop of creativity from one of cinemas most creative minds.
The big names and crowd-pleasing aesthetic suggest his next film could be a world away from the smart and small gifts he keeps on giving.
Free Fire is in essence a highbrow cineaste’s worst nightmare, a film with little plot, character development or theoretical subtext. It is, instead 90 minutes of profane, violent, loud, lurid fun and the perfect way to end LFF 2016.
27 films in, most of the serious kind I had hoped to get a jolt to my senses with this film. It didn’t disappoint.
What little plot there is focuses on an arms deal in an abandoned Boston warehouse in the 70’s. We know it’s the 70’s from the music and font that greets the opening credits, and shortly after from the hair and costumes.
Justine (Brie Larson) brokers a deal between two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley) and a gang led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer), who intend to sell them a stash of guns. When shots are fired during the handover, complete pandemonium ensues, with everyone at the scene suddenly thrust into a game of survival.
And that is literally that, but my word does Wheatley have fun with it.
The majority of the film is a shootout but Wheatley switches between that, dialogue, a few character beats and douses them in his signature dark humour and playfulness. His characters all get moments of action and wordplay; one liners zing past at the speed of a bullet.
Initially it is hard to figure out the geography of the space and where everyone is situated, but as the film takes a pause for breath it’s clear who, where and more importantly how everyone is.
This is a Friday night; crowd pleaser but serious critics may cite the lack of anything substantial and even a disinterest in the shootout.
I didn’t feel either. Maybe my fan boy liked the film more than most but as someone with experience of how complex a shoot with many moving parts can be, I appreciate Wheatley’s skill at stripping things down and more importantly getting them done.
It may not be the most serious film, but it’s seriously fun, you can see that in everyone’s performances. It’s the kind of film actors grow up secretly wishing they could do once. The shootout you play in your garden, in computer games or paintball.
Don’t think about it. Just enjoy it. Brilliant bang for your buck.