ON IN CINEMAS
Free Fire is set in Boston in 1978 as a group of criminals congregate outside a warehouse to enter into a shady gun purchase deal. Amongst them are Irishmen Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), their hired help Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevie (Sam Riley), and American lady Justine (Brie Larson). They are lead into the building by Ord (Armie Hammer) and taken through to meet the sharp-suited South African Vernon (Sharlto Copley). The tensions start when Chris notices that the guns Vernon has brought aren’t of the kind that he requested. Nonetheless after testing them out and seeing the impressive work they make of a disused metal locker he agrees hand over his cash-filled suitcase.
Soon afterwards however trouble occurs when Vernon’s backup men Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor) arrive on the scene. Stevie, cowering behind their van, reveals to Frank that he can’t come out and show himself because of an incident involving him and Harry the previous night. Frank insists that he come out and help do his job. Sure enough when Stevie finally shows himself Harry flies into a rage, claiming that he bottled his 17 year old sister the night before for failing to agree to give him a blow job. While the others try hard to keep a lid on the feud it soon boils over and bullets start flying. Things get more complicated as Chris tries to chat up Justine mid-shootout, another mysterious pair of hitmen suddenly arrive on the scene and the telephone in the goldfish bowl office starts ringing.
Free Fire is the film where Ben Wheatley decides to let his hair down and have some fun after the somewhat experimental vibe of most of his earlier efforts. The all-star cast appear to have had lots of fun playing rather over-the-top characters, shouting a lot of colourfully profanity-laden lines, firing guns off at each other and getting their swanky 1970s costumes covered in dirt and blood. While I wouldn’t say that Free Fire is a particularly great film (it’s basically a Reservoir Dogs rip-off force-fed with half a ton of amphetamines), quite a lot of the fun rubs off on the audience.
The action is loud and copious, a symphony of gunfire that causes plentiful injuries that leave the characters in visibly pained positions, but it takes a long time before anyone is actually killed. The effect is actually rather comedic in the manner of a Tom & Jerry cartoon as the characters persist in trying to maim each other despite receiving one bloody wound after another. It’s not especially well staged action however; while on a technical level the sound effects are suitably noisy, the pyrotechnics professionally executed and the bloody injury effects convincing (with hardly any discernible CGI), the manner in which Wheatley films and edits the mayhem frequently makes it hard to make out who exactly is firing at who.
Thankfully the list of name actors and the characters they play help enormously. While most of these characters aren’t particularly likeable they are played in a manner that makes them enormously enjoyable to watch. In between exchanging bullets they goad, banter, shout and panic just like real people would undoubtedly do in such a fraught situation. While it’s hard to choose a favourite among the cast since most of them shine in their own way, I thought Armie Hammer as Ord - a character who hilariously resorts to wind-ups and futile peacekeeping attempts despite everything clearly going to hell in a handbasket around him - stood out. However Sharlto Copley, Michael Smiley and Brie Larson do come pretty close behind in the acting stakes, each bringing their own distinctive onscreen personas to their respective roles.
Free Fire is nothing more or less than an enjoyable 90 minutes. Nothing too deep, creative or thought-provoking, but it certainly scratches an itch for those wanting to see a talented cast relieve their stresses by blowing holes in each other with handguns.
Free Fire is on general UK release on 31st March 2017 - here is a photograph following the preview screening at the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh, featuring (L-R) actor Sam Riley, director Ben Wheatley and interviewer Ian Hoey.
Runtime: 90 mins
Dir: Ben Wheatley
Script: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor