| Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.
Following last years divisive ‘High Rise’ eclectic British director Ben Wheatley returns with ‘Free Fire’ a 70’s set tale about a gun deal which goes badly wrong. As the tense exchange begins in an abandoned warehouse it becomes apparent that two gang members are holding onto an unsettled grudge, which proves to be the catalyst for things to break down and for a lengthy shoot out to begin. Wheatley resists the urge to break out of this setting to include Hollywood car chases and keeps the film solely focused on the confines of the warehouse. A brave move which he pulls off with aplomb.
What surprised me most was how funny this movie was, with dry biting (and hilarious) remarks flying as often as bullets, just pure black comedy. The pacing is on point, with brisk but effective character introductions giving way to gunfights that, despite the entire film being set in one location, manage at every turn to avoid overstaying their welcome.
With Sharlto Copley stealing the show as an egotistical arms dealer who suffers from a short temper and a seeming inability to differentiate between ‘the bants’ and genuine disrespect, it is a joy to watch him crawling around in his Saville Row suit attempting to persuade his hired goons to help him escape. Armie Hammer was great together with a very well fitted in solitary female lead Brie Larson as the mysterious nice girl. Michael Smiley and Cillian Murphy also shine as two – assumed – IRA members seeking to buy guns for the ongoing conflict in Northern Island.
“Fuck the small talk. Let’s buy some guns, eh?”
Wheatley wisely plays with the pace of the piece by purposefully peppering long stretches of perpetual pot-shots with powerful explosions of meaningful confrontation. He also includes a couple of small but significant side-steps to his own formula, which introduce life back into the situation whenever it threatens to become stale. It’s a different kind of shootout, too, with less blood but perhaps more pain; it’s not long before every character is unflatteringly crawling around the dirty floor, contorting their bodies to hide behind the various cover available, and almost everyone has at least one wound to contend with.
I read somewhere that Wheatley actually used Minecraft to plan out the various scenes in the film. And one can see how this would have been quite handy, as you follow individuals around on their little journeys from hidey hole to oil drum to vehicle, as they pick their vantage points. Although at times I felt the geography of the warehouse wasn’t clear, and one moment that felt like editing to give a chaotic effect was instead just a little off-putting.
Also the infrequent moments of close-up action don’t work nearly as well. The camera is way too close and shakes about too much, making it hard to discern what’s happening. Luckily, these scenes aren’t long and don’t have too much impact on the larger plot but it would have been nice to see them handled with as much care as the gun-play.
‘Free Fire’ is operatic and circus like in its hilarious absurdity and gunplay. A fun “shoot ’em up” movie that passes the time.
‘Free Fire’ gets a 7.6/10
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!
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