Free Fire – LFF Review

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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.

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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.

Everybody Wants Some!! Sing Street – Film Review(s)

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Last week I inadvertently scheduled myself a thematic weekend of cinema by seeing Everybody Wants Some!! and Sing Street on consecutive days. The films are quite different but I can’t find a way to talk about one without bringing up the other and so I have decided to review them both completely separately and intertwined. Excuse me while I try to impress you.

In Autumn 2014 Richard Linklater returned to a key period in his own history as he recreated early eighties Texas and filmed Everybody Wants Some!! in which Jake (Blake Jenner) starts at a new college and joins his baseball teammates in pursuit of girls. For Linklater the film is not just a return to his adolescence but marks a continuation of the theme of childhood and adulthood running through his earlier work Dazed and Confused and more recently Boyhood.

In Autumn 2014 John Carney returned to a key period in his own history as he recreated early eighties Dublin and filmed Sing Street in which Conor (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) starts at a new school and leads his reluctant bandmates in pursuit of a girl. For Carney the film is not just a return to his adolescence but marks a continuation of the theme of music and romance running through his earlier work Once and more recently Begin Again.

In Everybody Wants Some!! we find ourselves immersed in the world of a tribe unfamiliar to myself: the jocks. We follow the jocks from party to party as they clash with one another and change their appearance to better match the style of the girls they are pursuing. Music and costume are equally important in this film and the fluctuation of each goes hand in hand. As the boys move from pursuing girls in a country club to chasing girls in a grunge club their outfits switch to suit the soundtrack they will be grinding to. It is no surprise that the film’s soundtrack will be getting a cassette release alongside the more traditional CD.

In Sing Street we find ourselves immersed in the world of a tribe familiar to myself: the nerds. We follow the nerds from genre to genre as they sing with one another and change their appearance to better match the style of the music they are pursuing. Music and costume are equally important in this film and the fluctuation of each goes hand in hand. As the boys move from imitating the style of Duran Duran to writing music like The Cure their outfits switch to suit the soundtrack they will be singing to. It is no surprise that the film’s soundtrack will be getting a vinyl release alongside the more traditional CD.

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As well as attempting to be authentic to the era in which it is set Everybody Wants Some!! also echos what we have come to expect from seeing the time period and genre portrayed through cinema. The story of the young college student, played incongruously by a man in his twenties, pursuing sex in sun drenched America is one we know well and this film easily blends in amongst its siblings shot over the past thirty years. This cinematic authenticity helps make the film and its characters feel relatable even if you haven’t ever been a jock or stepped foot on American soil, let alone lived through the eighties.

As well as attempting to be authentic to the era in which it is set Sing Street also echos what we have come to expect from seeing the time period and genre portrayed through cinema. The story of the young school student, played accurately by a boy in his teens, pursuing escape in grey and drizzly UK & Ireland is one we know well and this film easily blends in amongst its siblings shot over the past thirty years. This cinematic authenticity helps make the film and its characters feel relatable even if you haven’t ever been a musician or stepped foot on Irish soil, let alone lived through the eighties.

At the film’s core is a story of lust and the pursuit of many women. Aside from his love for all women the apple of our protagonist’s eye is Beverly (Zoey Deutch); a performing arts student who catches Jake’s eye at the start of the film. Despite possibly (I’d need to double-check) passing the Bechdel test the film spends no amount of time fleshing out its female characters. Beverly is a two-dimensional character of whom we learn very little and probably isn’t even developed enough to earn the title of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Beverly is primarily treated as something to be won and I wasn’t convinced that our protagonist deserved to “win” her.

At the film’s core is a story of love and the pursuit of stardom. Aside from his love for songwriting the apple of our protagonist’s eye is Raphina (Lucy Boynton); an aspiring model who catches Conor’s eye at the start of the film. Despite possibly (I’d need to double-check) not passing the Bechdel test the film spends a good amount of time fleshing out its female characters. Raphina is a three-dimensional character of whom we learn a lot and the film slowly reveals enough for her to ditch the title of Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Raphina is treated as a character in her own right and any romance feels authentic and earned.

Overall the film is a success within the familiar framework it is working and will likely be enjoyed by fans of the genre or the director’s work that it follows on from. The soundtrack will be what sticks with you the most once you’ve stepped back out into the real world and will run through your head on your journey home. I had fun.

Both films are on release in the UK now.