Ben Wheatley continues to make the films that he wants to see, and this is one you’ll want to see too. Far more accessible than Wheatley’s last entry High Rise, Free Fire follows the immediate aftermath of a gun deal gone bad.
Set in Boston 1978, Chris (Cillian Murphy) and his IRA companions meet with narcissistic arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley) in an abandoned warehouse to exchange cash for M16 rifles. Facilitating the exchange is arbitrator Justine (Brie Larson) and the ever professional Ord (Armie Hammer), but even they can’t contain events when a personal disagreement between two supporting characters derails the exchange resulting in a tense and tangible shoot out between the two parties.
Free Fire is not a complicated film, it’s literally an hour and a half of people in a warehouse crawling around on the floor trying to kill each other. But it makes for a fantastic film because of the effort that has gone into crafting its every detail. The script is sharp and darkly funny and the small cast keeps everything at a grounded and personal level.
The bullet effects in this film are wonderfully convincing, with every bullet making an impact, either on nearby objects or on the characters themselves. This isn’t your standard cinematic shoot out, the bullets in Free Fire carry weight and real danger, and every shot fired could mean game over for any character at any time. I found myself physically wincing in the cinema when the bullets started to fly, and instinctively slid down a little lower in my seat.
The 70’s era is effectively evoked by the music and costumes, shoulder pads, paisley pattern and flares abound. There’s far less of a 70’s soundtrack than I was expecting but the music that is used in the film is used to good effect.
As far as the characters go, this film is exceptionally well cast and I particularly enjoyed Armie Hammer’s Ord, who is so wonderfully laid back despite the conflict around him. Brie Larson’s Justine holds her own, despite being the only female in the roster, and gives as good as she gets once the shit hits the fan. Sharlto Copley is on fine form, effortlessly delivering quotable one liners in his distinctive South African accent and he’s well placed in opposition to Cillian Murphy’s performance as the no-nonsense Chris.
On the whole Free Fire is precisely and effectively paced, it only flags a little about two thirds of the way through when there’s just a little bit too much time spent crawling on the floor. Also, as the film plays out like one long Tarantino scene (there’s a distinct Reservoir Dogs-esque vibe), it’s difficult to tell if the film knows where it’s going which risks a potential lull in the suspense.
But thankfully Free Fire never lulls for long, and the suspense and uncertainty make for some genuine surprises, and it’s certainly one of the more unique cinema experiences I’ve had for some time.
Free Fire may be small in scale and shallow in depth but it packs a tightly written script, an outstanding cast and a golden hour and a half of darkly comic violence that might not necessarily make you think, but it might make you duck.
Free Fire receives an all-guns blazing Cinescape score of: 8/10