Ben Wheatley was a director that people thought they knew. His films have been an incredibly British decent into madness; the bizarre end to the Kill List and the terrifyingly strange A Field in England are testament to this. However what is perhaps overlooked is Wheatley’s sense of humour, which is incredibly biting and absurd, as can be seen in his 2012 film Sightseers. Under all this is a smart examination of a series of important areas of either British society or filmmaking. In his newest film and perhaps the one that will cement him and writing partner Amy Jump as mainstream movie maestros combines all these elements into a neat package, Free Fire
In the 1970’s, a pair of IRA members, Chris and Frank, are looking to by some guns; they have a dealer and a meeting set up by their go between Justine. However, when tensions between the two sides gets too much, it will take the smallest spark to ignite an already volatile situation.
The story of Free Fire is simple, so simple in fact that I am surprised that no-one has really done this before. However it doesn’t really matter, its just an excuse for one of the wildest shootout, in cinematic history, and boy is it wild. Over the course of the film, each character is riddled with bullet holes, covered in blood and dust; they look like the have been through hell.
The story also shows a great confidence in Wheatley and Jump’s writing. There are no cut aways from the shootout and no further examination of the characters analysing how they got into the situation, it just is: It is almost Coenesque in that regard, or perhaps more recently it echoes the style of filmmaking exhibited by Jeremy Saulnier and his clusterfuck trilogy.
The design and look of the film are remarkable strong. Laurie Ross as the cinematographer does a fantastic job with the fluorescent orange lighting of the warehouse, and the costumes and music scream 1970.
However what shines in this film is the cast of absolutely amazing actors. Though we do not know much about their lives before the deal, we can get a sense of their character and their relationships to other members of the crew. This is down to career-best performances from the likes of Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley, Armie Hammer and many more. It was these characters that made what could have been a long boring slog into a gripping and riotously funny romp.
Despite the best efforts of cast and crew and the short 90 minute run time, it does drag somewhat toward the end. There are sections where it does get a little repetitive, and the usually stellar construction of space does fall apart a bit, but this could have been remedied either with another reveal, a different bit of action or a little bit of trimming.
Despite its pacing problem, Free Fire is a solid little action comedy, which has the pedigree both in front and behind the camera. It is a film that was meant to have fun, and it hits the funny-bone in the bullseye.