Ben Wheatley follows up his J. G. Ballard adaptation of High Rise with an original project, Free Fire, which is billed as consisting almost entirely of a gun fight.
Boston, 1978. Frank (Michael Smiley) and Chris (Cillian Murphy) are two members of the IRA heading to buy guns. They are chaperoned by their go between Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer). Their seller is Vernon (Shalto Copley), an over the top guy with a love of women and suits. As personalities clash the deal breaks down.
The beginning third of Free Fire is a lot of fun. The dialogue is quick, snappy and quotable and all of the characters, though they are all dislikable, are all entertaining to watch. You can tell that the actors are having a lot of fun, each of them really sinking their teeth into the dialogue and all getting their own moments. Sharlto Copley and Armie Hammer are particularly enjoyable, with Copley turned all the way up to eleven. We’re in Sightseers and Down Terrace territory, where grim laughs are the order of the day and there are plenty of them. However, you are just waiting for the gun fight to kick off. Everybody is sizing each other up and playing the big guy, trying to assert themselves as the alpha. With so many volatile personalities something is bound to kick off and a coincidence and some very misplaced words break the deal down into a hail of gun fire.
Free Fire has a bullet count that Rambo would be proud of and everybody gets tagged by a bullet at some point. Making a film set entirely in one place is difficult and having it mostly consist of a gun fight makes things even more challenging and Wheatley doesn’t quite nail the job. He tries to keep things exciting with quick edits that move from character to character but doesn’t give you a good sense of place for each player. You only have a vague idea of where they are in relation to each other and this means that any tension is dissipated as you don’t see who is aiming for who. You’ve got to have quite a lot of inventiveness to keep a straight scenario like this interesting and Free Fire doesn’t quite have that so some tedium does creep in. You just wish that they had kept on talking to each other instead of resorting to guns.
The great cast get to have a lot of fun with some enjoyable dialogue but things slow down once the shooting starts. It’s just entertaining enough to last the ninety minutes but you’d rather the characters were talking rather than shooting.
FREE FIRE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BEN WHEATLEY / SCREENPLAY: BEN WHEATLEY, AMY JUMP / STARRING: BRIE LARSON, SHARLTO COPLEY, ARMIE HAMMER, CILLIAN MURPHY / RELEASE DATE: 31ST MARCH