Free Fire (2017)
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Written by: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Starring: Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Michael Smiley, Patrick Bergen, Sam Riley, Sharlto Copley
Running Time: 90 mins
Reviewer: David Gillespie – HCF Official Artist
A visit to the Glasgow Film Festival is getting to be a bit of habit for British director Ben Wheatley. Having arrived last year for the fantastic sci-fi oddity Highrise, he returned to the GFT’s cinema 1 on Wednesday 22nd February with actor Jack Reynor to the delight of an adoring full house crowd. After the screening, I congratulated him on his most ‘crowd pleasing’ film to date and asked whether he would consider approaching a project without his signature touches of violence and conflict, such as a romantic comedy, family movie or porn? Wheatley responded that although he had put porn on the back burner, stating “..seriously, would you really want to see what I would do with a porn movie???”, his team had looked into a rom-com as being a strong contender in his selection of future projects. The brief question and answer once again displayed Wheatley’s impressive knowledge of cinema and television from throughout the years.
The only similarity with Free Fire and last year’s Highrise is the retro like touches to the project. The synopsis is a simple one. A couple of Irish gentlemen, Frank (Michael Smiley) and Chris (Cillian Murphy) meet in an abandoned Boston warehouse to purchase weapons from a narcissistic South African arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and level headed, associate Martin (Babou Ceesay). Orchestrating the deal are Justine (Brie Larson) and the smooth dude Ord (Armie Hammer). Troubles start immediately when the weapons turn out to be an inferior model to those ordered. When an old feud ignites between two gang members and Harry (Jack Reynor) fires a shell into his nemesis shoulder, the deal collapses and chaos ensues. This is as far as the plot goes. Loyalties are broken and some are created. Each and every cast member is either shot, pummelled, stabbed, bitten, crushed, bludgeoned or set on fire. The question is will anyone be capable of leaving with the money and weapons by the end of the film.
A film relying so much on such a simple concept could run into various problems. Firstly that of repetition. The shit hits the fan after about a third of the way into the running time which leaves one big action set-piece for the remainder. Wheatley and Jump keep things interesting with the hilarious interactions and insults firing back and forth amongst the bullets. The film never runs out of ideas in the action department. Some of the damage will leave you laughing, gagging or gasping in astonishment. The sound effects are astonishingly loud and effective when the action starts. A number of the audience jumped out of their seats when the first gunshot was fired. Even the soundtrack works well. A John Denver song is used to chilling and blackly comic effect as the tension builds.
The cast is wonderful with a mix of young acting talent and seasoned professionals. Each actor manages to bring their characters to life with little or no backstory. There are no weak links. Copley is great fun as the flamboyant, cocksure imbecile, Hammer is smooth and intimidating as the arrogant Ord and Smiley is his usual reliable self as the confrontational and aloof Frank. There are also signals of a potential romance between Larson and Murphy’s roles but neither character is in any position to explore this probability.
There have already been early comparisons between Reservoir Dogs and Free Fire, presumably due to the warehouse setting. Free Fire is more playful and a less depressing tale than Tarintino’s breakthrough thriller. It is true that the characters die in their own puddles of blood and brains in some instances, but there are no sympathetic characters. Although our alliances might rest with different individuals, they’ve “..all got it coming” as Clint Eastwood growled in The Unforgiven.
Wheatley’s frenetic entry in the crime thriller genre combines his familiar combination of retro cool style and violence. It is snappy, fast-moving and his most crowd-pleasing film to date. Perhaps some might say that it isn’t as challenging or inventive as his previous projects, but judging by the applause from the Glasgow audience in attendance on Wednesday, there were few who were disappointed. This is an incredibly loud, skillfully made and expertly edited action film that knows when to up the adrenaline factor to please the crowd. It might even appeal to the popcorn eating fraternity.
Free Fire will be released in UK cinemas on the 31st March 2017.