Free Fire - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
BEN Wheatley aims for the mainstream with his most accessible, star-studded movie to date and hits the target with considerable aplomb with Free Fire.
Inspired by an FBI shootout in Dade County, Miami, in 1986, and taking its stylistic cues from the likes of ’70s directors such as Don Siegel and Martin Scorsese [who actually produces], as well as a hefty dose of Tarantino, the film is a retro soaked blast of energy that oozes style without compromising Wheatley’s own signature traits.
The action takes place in a Massachusetts warehouse in the ’70s, as an arms deal brings together a group of Irishmen in search of M-16s, a female broker and the weapons suppliers. Lining up for the Irish are the likes of Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley and Michael Smiley, while the gun-runners are comprised of Sharlto Copley, Jack Reynor and Noah Taylor. Brokering the deal are Brie Larson and Armie Hammer, whose loyalties seem less than fixed to either side.
It’s clear from the outset that the situation is volatile. So, it comes as no surprise when the two parties fall out and the bullets start to fly, with the ensuing action taking the form of an extended gun battle that lasts pretty much the duration of the movie.
If this sounds as though it could become repetitive, then credit goes to Wheatley and his team for ensuring that it doesn’t. Rather, by populating the film with an array of colourful characters, some sharp dialogue and a keen sense of the absurd, Free Fire is a continually engaging, often thrilling cult classic in the making.
Wheatley deserves a lot of praise, too, for the way in which he never loses sight of his players despite the near-constant gunfire, while keeping viewers guessing as to who will survive and who might get the grisliest death. And he gives his cast plenty to do.
Copley is terrific fun as the unhinged gun-runner (sporting a ridiculously thick South African accent and a really bad attitude), Hammer is Tarantino-cool, Larson is a feisty bad girl and Murphy and Smiley give it their best shot at offering the type of character you might actually root for. Riley and Reynor, meanwhile, play two loser hot-heads, whose pre-meeting rivalry provides the catalyst for the film’s descent into mayhem (and both are memorably psychotic to boot).
The action is well choreographed and stylishly delivered without being overly flashy, even if some situations go knowingly OTT.
And yet Wheatley still manages to refrain from the type of exaggerated gunplay of the likes of John Woo, in favour of something more grimly realistic – thereby allowing room for some smart ’70s nods as well as the type of bone-crunching, wince-inducing violence that has been a trademark of his own ever since the days of Down Terrace and Kill List.
The director actually pulls off a really neat trick by balancing his own filmmaking style and values with something more accessible to mainstream audiences. Free Fire therefore refuses to compromise on its indie aesthetic while quite possibly turning Wheatley into a more commercial prospect at the box office.
It’s a funny, exciting, ultra-cool experience that proves you can deliver gritty action with memorable characterisation and a sly sense of the absurd.
Running time: 90mins
UK Release Date: March 31, 2017