Director: Ben Wheatley
Screenplay: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor
Runtime: 90 Minutes
Ben Wheatley’s filmmaking career has seen his status extrapolated beyond the parlours of niche independent fare, to becoming one of our greatest living British talents. His work with screenwriter Amy Jump spreading his filmography across multiple genres and settings across the country, with his sixth feature Free Fire moving to 1970s Boston – although shot entirely in Brighton.
The premise is about as simple as economic storytelling can get. The setting of an abandoned warehouse in the sleazy 70s with two opposing sides of equally untrustworthy individuals gathering for an arms deal, each with their own backgrounds and motivations, is a wonderfully solid platform for the riot that ensues. Said riot consisting of a single prolonged shootout that spans across the films remaining 60-minute runtime after the initial pleasantries of the setup are established – with characters more or less fully formed, kitted out and ready for battle.
The resulting carnage is an extraordinary effort by everyone involved in the production. The direction is handled in such a concise way, with a single sense of geography that maps out the locations of everybody (and everybody), gun and bullet within the staging area of the gunfight. The editing is staggeringly effective at keeping track of everyone’s positions as their vulnerabilities are slowly exposed and they are physically chipped away at by the flying bullets.
Much like Wheatley and Jump’s other films, the violence in the film is a lasting element that isn’t easily shaken off like with most action films. Should someone get shot in the leg, they’re staying down for the remainder of the film. So effectual is this that much of the cast are left crawling around the rubble and broken glass of the filthy warehouse come the final scenes.
Every single performance is amiable and perfectly encapsulating of their character types. The manner in which these distinct personalities bounce off one and other is like a chemistry lesson livened up with gunpowder – with specific praise to be levelled at Armie Hammer’s smarmy Ord, Sam Riley’s loose canon Stevo and Brie Larson’s no shit Justine. But the show stealer is Sharlto Copley as the gaudily dressed, slimy psychopath Vernon. The script never tires in its pursuit of the next one-liner, which fire shots of gratuitous verbal venom and sarcastic scorn at a terrific rate.
The only weakness to be said of the film is that the concentration of the brilliant conceit begins to wane as soon as another party are seemingly introduced to the action. The gunplay and violence slow at a point where it should be picking up the pace.
It has very little to say about anything beyond its histrionic setting and incentive, but Free Fire is a really good movie that everyone involved should be thrilled to have been involved with. It’s refined the nuts and bolts of its genre trappings with spiralling style and faultless production and costume designs – wild and highly resourceful fun.