Having completely sideswiped everyone thanks to films like Sightseers and High-Rise, the duo of director Ben Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump return for Free Fire, which is quite possibly Wheatley’s most mainstream entry to date. Set in 1970s Boston, a weapons deal that’s orchestrated by incompetent suppliers and dealers within an abandoned warehouse goes south, which results in a volatile shootout that lasts nearly all 90 minutes of the film’s running time. This is Wheatley attempting to dial back on narrative and complex themes, which drove his last film High-Rise, and instead opt for a straight up cat-and-mouse shootout between these two warring factions, with characters flip-flopping between allegiances and motivations. This makes Free Fire sound like it’s all violence, gunplay and style with no substance whatsoever, but despite the fact that this film may be light on story, you are rewarded with a viscerally entertaining cinema experience.
We may know the kind of scenario that’s going on in this film going in, but Wheatley cleverly builds up the tension, just like he did in Kill List, and by the time the pin drops and the first shot is fired, he delivers the goods with aplomb. The violence on display here has an element of slapstick, which results in some genuinely hilarious moments of black comedy, and even the gunfire sound effects are very cartoonish, yet strangely don’t feel out of place since it fits in well with the movie’s tone. In fact, the cartoonish violence is very reminiscent of Home Alone or a Tom and Jerry cartoon in that characters get shot multiple times yet still manage to stay alive and be active and mobile to the point where a character is severely grazed through his head and is somehow still alive.
The characters in this film are incredibly broad with very distinctive personalities and walk around in these extravagant suits with massive collars and garish colours, almost to the point where there’s this aura of vanity surrounding these individuals. Everyone’s self-aware and that’s why there’s this huge clash of egos from the get-go, and every performer in this film delivers their A-game, from the likes of Michael Smiley, Cillian Murphy and Brie Larson. Some standouts among them include Armie Hammer who is subtly convincing as the cool and suave slime ball, while Sharlto Copley completely hams it up as the pseudo-main antagonist of the movie. However, standing out strongly was the central conflict between Sam Riley and Jack Treynor, which ranges and escalates from funny to bloody.
In the end, Free Fire is really this absurdist black comedy with gunfire and bloodshed; it’s about these characters placed within this deadly situation born out of vanity and egoism, which could’ve easily been avoided, but just descends into out-of-control carnage. It is true that the gunfire battle becomes a little too drawn out, but it is still an enjoyably absurd ride with great performances and a cracking ‘70s soundtrack involving classics by John Denver and The Real Kids. Despite some flaws, this is still one of the most unique cinematic experiences you’ll have this year.
FREE FIRE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BEN WHEATLEY / SCREENPLAY: AMY JUMP, BEN WHEATLEY / STARRING: SHARLTO COPLEY, ARMIE HAMMER, BRIE LARSON, CILLIAN MURPHY, JACK REYNOR, BABOU CEESAY / RELEASE DATE: 7TH AUGUST