Over the past few years, one of the most interesting directors to come out of the UK has been Ben Wheatley. The insanity present in all of Wheatley’s films has made him one of the most unique directors working today, even if not all of his films land (I wasn’t too fond of A Field In England, outside of the performances). When his films do land though, we get brilliant pieces like Sightseers and High Rise. This time, Wheatley has more resources on his hand, including Martin Scorcese as an executive producer, for the film of his with the simplest premise, which helps make this Wheatley’s most accessible film, and one of his most entertaining.The plot of the film focuses on a gun sale in 1970s Boston, with IRA members Chris and Frank trying to but rifles from arms dealers Ord and Vernon, with the aid of intermediary Justine. During the meeting though, something goes wrong involving the back-up each side brought with them, which results in a protracted shoot-out on both sides. There’s nothing really else to the film, most of the film is one long gunfight. In a lesser film, this would end up getting pretty boring as there would be nothing else to keep you interested in the film, with this film though there’s a great sense of humour to keep you invested, alongside good character writing. Every time there’s a lull in the action, we find out a bit more about the nature of the characters, mainly through insults traded between the different characters. By having this sense of fun in the lulls between the fights, the film never gets boring and you’re kept engaged through all the different aspects of the shootout. As more elements come into play within the warehouse, there’s a sense of confusion felt by the characters, some of them even forgetting whose side they’re on, with further adds to the comedic aspect of the film. There also seems to be a bit of satire regarding how the gunfight starts and keeps going, focusing on the greed of some of the characters and the insistence of guns to solve problems. If the main characters of the film had just agreed to put down the guns and walk out, as everything they were fighting over was in the middle of the room, the whole thing would have been resolved, but none of them were willing to do it.
What helps the film work is how game the cast is for everything. Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley do solid work as Chris and Frank, Murphy having a more reasonable air, having good chemistry with the other characters, whilst Smiley has an angrier bent which fits the tone of his character. As Justine, Brie Larson also does solid work, showing her to be the smartest person in the room and showing her disgust with the other characters more through her facial expressions. Armie Hammer is brilliantly cocky as Ord, who is another of the more reasonable people in the warehouse. There are great comedic performances as well from Sam Riley, Noah Taylor, Enzo Cilenti, Babou Ceesay and Jack Reynor, all of whom show varying levels of incompetence and stupidity throughout the film. The MVP of the film though is Sharlto Copley as Vernon. His performance is easily the funniest of the film due to a great mix of arrogance and stupidity he brings, he allows Vernon’s greed to shine through, with a main reason why the gunfight keeps going on being Vernon trying to get the money, and his reactions to everything around him are hysterical, it’s a solid comedic performance.
On a technical level, this is one of Wheatley’s more impressive films. The design of the warehouse (part of which was done in Minecraft) creates a firm geography to the location which makes sure the only confusion you feel is the intentional kind to get you up to speed with the characters, aided by the strong editing. The costume design does a good job of evoking the feel of the 70s, which is aided by the music, mainly the use of John Denver, which adds to the humour of the film. Special attention has to go to the sound design though. The music is used in the film very sparingly, most of the soundtrack of the film consists of guns firing, the quiet in the rest of the film highlighting the sound of the guns, which helps when the fight first starts by adding to the shock of the whole thing.
Overall, Free Fire could have easily become boring, but in the hands of Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump it becomes a great bit of fun. The actors are all game, the direction of the central gunfight never gets boring and there’s a great sense of humour throughout the film. If you’re a fan of over the top action films, you need to see Free Fire.
My Rating: 4/5