After a long time watching other’s post their reviews of Free Fire from the UK wide tour (and a Q+A session with director Ben Wheatley) it finally rolled around to Cambridge and the Arts Picturehouse. Needless to say, I was ready to see this film, having limited myself to the one trailer viewing and not reading any of the spoiler free reviews out there beforehand. Even so, it was hard not to have a certain amount of excitement about this one. In recent years, Ben Wheatley has been a slowly developing influence on British cinema and my viewing in particular. His ability and desire to show violence in all the glory that it can be, showing that it needn’t be mindless or used for spectacle, and on top of this being freely able to portray his vision as he wants it to be, without limitations, one thing that I associate with Korean cinema and probably one of the reasons that I am drawn to it.
Anyway, back to the film! Free Fire revolves around a 1970s gun deal that goes bad. Really bad. Located in a disused Boston warehouse and with two twitchy, edgy teams, it has all the elements to make for a tense situation, and it does very well to highlight this in the opening exchanges between the buyers and the sellers. One the one side, the IRA members, we have Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), on the other side we have Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Martin (Babou Ceesay) with the goods. Facilitating the deal are Ord (Armie Hammer) and Justine (Brie Larson), who unfortunately get drawn into things when the shit goes down. Aaaaannnd, on top of it all, there are the hired hands for either side, bumping the numbers up even more.
As previously said, it is a tense opening and when it all kicks off there is a huge amount of confusion and action as everyone searches for the minimal cover that there is inside this warehouse. Whilst nobody should be laughing at people being shot, hit or crushed, in this scenario, it is done in such a way that it is found humourous. Everyone in this film is lively and indignant to the injuries that they sustain, and this plays out really well. Sharlto Copley is in his larger than life persona, a role he portrays really well, and he dominates the screen, even when he isn’t in shot with his pleading and moaning. Cillian Murphy brings charisma and calm to an edgy situation. Michael Smiley, a Wheatley favourite, plays the older statesman who tries to keep everything in check and on course, a tough task with this motley crew! Armie Hammer is smarmy, always in control and tries to remain impartial throughout, but struggles to do so in the face of provocation. Brie Larson, again, is not definitively on one side or another of this but does eventually seem to pick a side. Jack Reynor is absolutely superb as the aggravating Harry, as is Sam Riley as his opposite number, the stoner Stevo.
The amount of planning and organisation that needed to be put in to get the angles and filming to appear authentic must have been immense, all hiding behind small objects with any uncovered object being targeted and shot at. No mean feat when in an enclosed warehouse and with so many people. In the post film Q&A, Ben touched on how he went about planning and arranging these sequences, a very insightful process. As far as action comedy goes, this is an amazing film. The dark humour relating to being shot and injured (but not killed) abounds and was very much on my level. The hit ratio of shots is so low, it again borders on the ridiculous but again this is an element that was written into the film from the original idea (a police report) which spawned this years and years ago.
This film is a riot, once again Ben Wheatley has taken a premise of violence and done something different with it. With High Rise it was all to do with violence as a means to tear down class and then impose a new social order, with this it is there to ridicule the film system of one shot one kill at the same time as not pulling any punches. Pretty sure that there wouldn’t have been any lines drawn in this film to tone anything down and it all the better for it. The 90 mins is a perfect runtime for a film like this. Enough time to build the tension and plenty of time to extend the action. It is set pretty much in real time, you get a great feeling of continuity, of the struggle to get out of this fucked up situation.
I really, really loved this film, it is well made and light hearted, at the same time action packed and enthralling to watch to see who comes out the winner in the end. I’ve still got a few Wheatley films to catch up on but I’m going to make sure that I do, thankfully between the DVDs I already have and Film4 showing his back catalogue there should be nothing to stand in my way!
If you want to see a fun, action-packed film then this is certainly one to catch, and if you’ve not seen any of Ben Wheatley’s other films then join me in making up for this error in judgement!