Film review by Claire Durrant of Free Fire, a comedy about a gun deal gone hilariously wrong and starring Sharlito Copley and Brie Larson.
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1970s Boston and two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) have travelled across the seas to meet Justine (Brie Larson) who has organised a meeting with the flamboyant Vernon (Sharlito Copely) and Ord (Armie Hammer) who are selling them a stash of guns. But when a disagreement between members of the two sides begins, all shots are literally fired.
Review, by Claire Durrant
After the surreality of the dystopian High Rise (2015), director Ben Wheatley and writing partner Amy Jump have teamed up once again to make their most widely accessible film to date, especially in terms of its simple structure, excellent cast and heavy use of action.
Action films with hyper violence have been a popularised genre in cinema for a long period of time now, and Free Fire definitely exaggerates this fact. What you are essentially getting is a 90 minute standoff between a bunch of narcissistic idiots with access to weapons. A shoot- ’em- up narrative ensues (think of the end to Reservoir Dogs (1992), if it was stretched out to a feature length film.)
When the bullets start firing, the pain is felt and is realistically approached. Unlike most action films in which the lead will either get shot and merely shrug it off or bullets miss them entirely (can anyone actually shoot John Wick, 2015?) in Free Fire gun wounds have a lasting effect.
Every character is slowly bleeding, but are still playable in the game of survival. Ord at one point remarks that it would take over an hour before their wounds become problematic. By the third act, those who are still breathing are having to agonisingly drag themselves across the floor. Yet, there is a sort of schadenfreude to watching these despicable people suffer.
At a recent Q&A I attended, Wheatley commented that Sam Raimi, and particularly Evil Dead 2 (1987) were big inspirations for him. I believe this is evidently seen in scenes in which gore is juxtaposed with humour. Certain moments will have you cringing in horror and laughing at the same time.
However, the humour isn’t limited to the action alone, it’s when the guns are silent and everyone is catching their breath that we get the better character moments. Bullets are replaced with witty and quippy dialogue.
Hammer, who is sporting a beautiful beard, has some great dialogue. He’s the calm and collected one in the absurd situation, and his suave nature contrasts against the others. Copely (who is speaking in his native South African accent) also gets a lot of laughs, both on screen and off screen! You can always hear his panicked voice even when the camera is on a different character.
But for me, what I found absolutely enjoyable is watching the smaller players and rivals Stevo (Riley) and Harry (Jack Reynor) have such a strong need to kill one another. How it all plays out in the end is sickeningly funny.
What adds another level of amusement to Ben Wheatley’s style, was that this film was entirely shot in his home town. He created an abandoned warehouse in 1970s America, in a clean warehouse in Brighton; there’s something quite delightful about that! He thanks his art department for “bringing in shit” to make the set more appropriate.
Wheatley has rightly so been acclaimed for his writing and directing talents, but for this particular film, I have to congratulate him on his editing. I think what makes this editing process particularly unique, is that fact that Wheatley cites Minecraft as a tool used.
Before filming, he mapped out the entire film on the video game first to get an indication of where each character had to be throughout the shootouts. He joked that big film companies spend ridiculous amounts of money to use 3D software in preproduction, where as he spent approximately £8.
And well it worked! Shooting his film chronologically, and using Minecraft to create a sense of order to the chaos being filmed, has ensured a effortless, stylish and slick outcome. The continuity was always spot on and you always knew where each character was despite the ongoing turmoil they were involved in – a credit to cinematographer Laurie Rose also.
Wheatley joked that he doesn’t care what critics say about his film, because he’s already got Martin Scorsese’s approval (Scorsese liked it so much he also served as an Executive Producer.) Well, I may not be the director of Taxi Driver (1976) and Goodfellas (1990), but I also found this film to be wildly entertaining. What it lacks in narrative and plot, it definitely makes up for in its editing, its script and its action.
Moral of the story? Don’t give stupid people guns!
Cast and Credits
Director: Ben Wheatley. 90 mins. Film4/Protagonist Pictures/Rook Films. (15)
Producer: Andrew Starke.
Writers: Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump.
Camera: Laurie Rose.
Music: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury.
Sets: Paki Smith.
Sharlto Copely, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti, Noah Taylor.