Brandon Richardson | 28/04/2017
Everybody knows that action movies are only as good as their climactic standoff. With Free Fire, Ben Wheatley takes those moments and turns them into a feature-length film, with hilarious consequences.
Free Fire centres around Irish Republican Army members Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), along with henchmen Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), and their arms deal with weapons dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his associates Martin (Babou Ceesay), Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor). The deal is being brokered through Justine (Brie Larson) on the IRA side, and Ord (Armie Hammer) on Vernon’s side. However, the deal quickly turns south when bad blood between Stevo and Harry is uncovered, and this situation rapidly devolves into a fervent shootout; a desperate fight for survival for all parties involved.
For a film that is stripped down to the bare essentials, there is quite a lot that Free Fire does right. One of its strongest aspects is its cast. We are gifted with a diverse range of actors who deliver a diverse set of characters that are all thoroughly enjoyable to watch, none more so than Armie Hammer. Hammer has impressed over the last few years with the range of characters he has portrayed, even if some were in unimpressive films. As Ord, Hammer masterfully executes a deadpan humour that makes his steely muscle-for-hire character steal every moment he is on screen. Sharlto Copley’s Vernon comes close to rivalling his brilliance. In contrast to Hammer, Copley’s roles over the years have been so similar that it often seems like we are just watching him be himself on screen, with characters built around his persona. Here, that persona shapes Vernon into a man so self-aware of his own arrogance and ego that it makes him likeable, even when asking everyone to lay down their lives for him. The whole cast clearly had a fun time making this film, and it shines in the chemistry they have and the tongue-in-cheek vibe of the whole thing.
Wheatley has exercised subtle skill in his direction of Free Fire. The concept is frighteningly simple: throw a bunch of people in a warehouse and have them shoot at each other for an hour. However, when there are so many characters to keep track of and only so much screen space to put them on, it is a challenge to keep the audience engaged and aware of where everyone is located and who they are shooting at. Wheatley uses a few tricks to make sure the audience is never truly lost, like cutting away to other characters before some dialogue is finished but still having the said dialogue audible in the background. This is well contrasted with the action, which is smartly executed and edited to instil a sense of desperate chaos, giving these parts a certain realism to its violence that we aren’t afforded in other films of its kind.
While the concept of making a final standoff the bulk of your film is part of what makes this film so fun, it also brings some drawbacks, the most obvious being the relative lack of plot. Being set almost entirely in one room, it was hard not to draw parallels with Tarantino’s latest, The Hateful Eight. While Tarantino was able to construct a compelling whodunit-type story to keep the audience guessing, Free Fire is not much more than a dialogue between the characters, with the vast majority of the film consisting of witty jibes and gunshots between the participants. There are a few curveballs - and even a few short-lived characters - to keep you on your toes, but they are not significant enough to give the film the substance to make it an irreplaceable classic.
Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire is the perfect film if you are looking to kick back, and not have to think too hard about what you are watching. While it isn’t thought provoking, it is, nonetheless, an action-packed, fun-filled, 90-minute rollercoaster.