It is 1978 and in a Boston warehouse four members of the IRA are meeting a flamboyant South African arms dealer to buy cases full of automatic weapons. Americans there to facilitate the deal and keep the two parties under control fail at their jobs when a previous fight between minor players in each team flares up and the warehouse becomes the setting for a full on shoot out. As the cast scramble on the dusty and dirty ground bullets fly around striking concrete, ricocheting off metal, and thudding into flesh. For the next ninety minutes Free Fire is relentless fun.
Writer/director Ben Wheatley, again teaming up with writer Amy Jump, has made a film wildly different from his existing excellent oeuvre and yet distinctively his own. There have been comparisons made between Free Fire and Tarantino but I would argue that Wheatley and Jump’s film is a purer film than the likes of Reservoir Dogs. A Tarantino film feels as though it is trying to impress you while Wheatley’s are honest cinematic expressions. The violence in Free Fire is brutally authentic; each bullet wound suitably incapacitating its recipient and nobody leaving the warehouse either unscathed or with impeccable attire. Jump and Wheatley’s dialogue is similarly authentic, if more hilarious that your average trade negotiation, but the laughs come from incongruity and character beats rather than clever pop culture references.
The warehouse in question is filled with an eclectic bunch of actors clearly chosen for their skill and suitability rather than their box office appeal. From the sole female actor in the form of Oscar darling Brie Larson we have the mainstream talents of Cillian Murphy and Armie Hammer through Sharlto Copley to the less known but equally talent likes of Noah Taylor and Michael Smiley. The entire cast gives it their all; nobody giving into vanity or shying away from an unlikeable character. As they sweat and bleed the characters all end up filthy and caked in a cocktail of dirt and bodily fluids and nobody is allowed the opportunity to play the noble hero. It is also a true ensemble cast as there is no lead role or hero to root for; we have a rag tag bunch of criminals all out to screw over one another.
Wheatley directs a film of nearly endless action with aplomb despite it being a departure from his previous work. You always know where each character each and who is aligned with who; at least as much as Wheatley wants you to. The sound design too deserves praise as the gunshots are given the deafening burst of sound they deserve hammering home the film’s dedication to authenticity. A gun fight is never going to be a pretty sight and not everyone will walk away unharmed or at all. The audience feels every shot fired and, while some shots miss, when a bullet finds a human home you can really feel it.
Free Fire is a simple and precise film; it does not exist to deliver a message or make a political statement but is here to entertain and delight, something it does with ease. Free Fire is 90 minutes of pure joy and I cannot wait to watch it again in March when it hits cinemas.