Directed by Ben Wheatley
Written by Ben Wheatley & Amy Jump
Starring Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, Sam Riley, Mark Monero, Patrick Bergin & Tom Davis
Festival date: 16th October 2016
UK General Release: 31st March 2017
Genre: Action, Crime, Drama
Brief outline: Massachusetts. Late 70s. Justine (Brie Larson) has brokered a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley) and a gang led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer) who are selling them a stash of guns. But when shots are fired in the handover, a heart stopping game of survival ensues. (Source: BFI)
Its no secret when I openly admit that Ben Wheatley’s last two films, A Field in England and High Rise, left an exceptionally poor taste in my mouth. I was just a bit discouraged after being introduced to such promising work with Kill List and Sightseers respectively, only to then feel disconnected with his next two pictures; giving me serious doubts whether or not Wheatley could bounce back at all. But that is what he certainly has done here with his latest outing in Free Fire. Not only is he back on top form but this is in my eyes, his most skillfully accomplished and best film in his career to date. Teaming up once again with his wife and writing partner Amy Jump, both their careers have certainly been given a massive boost with Martin Scorsese serving as executive producer here, given them the right justification they need to arrive steadily back on track. With the addition of having such a solid ensemble cast that includes the likes of Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley; it makes you feel at considerable ease that Wheatley has struck gold again.
Set solely in a completely abandoned warehouse, you immediately sense that something isn’t quite right when the buyers and sellers meet. The problems start to arise and mount up when Vernon (Copley) makes the sloppy mistake of handing over the wrong guns to the two gangster Irishmen (Murphy and Smiley). They made this deal in the first place because what they wanted to get their hands on were M16s but what they’re presented with instead are several boxes of AK47s – not exactly what they bargained for. Reluctantly, they take whats there and hand the money over, as the cash gets counted someone else in their crew recognises one of the suppliers and from there on in, all hell breaks loose.
Everything that possibly could go horribly wrong during an arms deal, does indeed go horribly wrong in spectacularly blood-splattering fashion. From the moment the first bullet is fired in a fantastic rendering slow motion scene, it doesn’t take long for a hell of a lot more bullets to start flying left, right, centre and any other direction you can think of; with plenty of blood being spilt and many limbs lost. This quickly turns from what would have been a simple crime business deal into an absolute bullet ridden chaotic bloodbath, that there I say it, makes Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs look really amateurish at best in comparison. This is basically 12 Angry Men but with a woman added into the mix and instead of them just arguing verbally, they’d rather argue with guns. Lots of guns.
In between the sequences where the characters aren’t getting shot, beaten or blown away, there’s still enough room left for plenty of hilarious dialogue to be had, given every actor on screen a real chance to shine in their roles. This is the kind of film where you can tell straight away that the whole cast had such a fun blast coming together and making it. Every so often a film comes along that can truly engage an audience in a way that they allow themselves to get so suckered into the events unfolding that it elicits a great power of drawing out such big reactions. This is one of those films.
As the carnage grows progressively worse, we start to discover that some characters have hidden agendas, we never quite know who’s playing who and any trust that they may have had from the start for one another has now spectacularly been flown straight out the window. Every character on screen starts to suspect as much as we do that there’s a highly unlikely chance that none of them are going to be able to escape out of this alive – with or without the guns and money. This dire situation getting more and more out of hand puts a whole new spin on the phrase ‘when shit hits the fan…’.
With that in mind, each of these characters fully understands that they’ve suddenly been thrust into a nightmarish life or death situation with seemingly no way out, where they can’t afford to have itchy trigger fingers and its basically every man (and woman) for themselves.
Well, I’ve been lucky enough to see some very worthwhile films at this year’s London Film Festival and again, Free Fire is a film that was completely flawless to me; making it ever such a difficult and daunting task to pick out any negative parts. If there was one slight drawback, its the fact that this film beckons repeated viewings due to it being so fast paced. In the midst of a sold out audience gasping, laughing and applauding during key points of the movie, it made it hard for me to hear some of the lines of dialogue characters were saying.
The creators at BFI Film were confident they made the wisest choice in selecting Free Fire as their closing night film. They wanted to make sure they closed this year’s festival by going all out with a very big loud bang, and my God is that just what happened.
After having four feature films now under his belt, Wheatley wanted to really go off the leash by making a no holds barred violent, action rip roaring movie about everyone just wanting to hurt and kill each other. He fully seized the opportunity in being able to finely attune a masterfully adept focus when delving deep into an occasionally erupting and fiercely explosive dynamic between 12 really fleshed out colourful, well drawn characters; to which I believe, if handled in lesser capable hands, the whole film would have fallen flat on its face.
Its also the narrative that works so well here too, one that is so expertly constructed by both Wheatley and Jump, making the entire film so well paced and extremely well tightened when holding everything together within such a confined and restricted one single location setting; ensuring it makes full use of its 90 minutes running time to its own advantage. This is something that could have easily been extended another half an hour and still retain being absolutely thrilling from start to finish.