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.

The Double – LFF Film Review

The Double

Only a few minutes into Richard Ayoade’s second film as director I wrote in my note book in capital letters “I LOVE THIS” and ninety minutes later I did not disagree with myself. Ayoade’s first feature Submarine was a hilarious story of young love that was very much grounded in reality but shot with a distinctive style that stood it out from the crowd. With The Double Ayoade has truly evolved as a film-maker as he has taken his unique eye for film and run with it to create a surreal masterpiece that David Lynch would be proud of.

In The Double Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a man who is so dull and unremarkable that no one notices when his exact double, James Simon, starts working at his office and slowly begins to steal his work, win over his coworkers, and steal the love of his life. The Double is set in a universe similar to ours but slightly askew as the world resembles a vision of the future from forty years ago. The technology is timeless in that it has not nor ever will exist; computers are resplendent with knobs and dials and the underground train stops inside the office building. Ayoade has created an entire world in which to set his doppelgänger thriller.

While the entire cast, and many more of Ayoade’s friends, pop up in minor roles this is far removed from Submarine. Everything within The Double from the lighting and set design to dialogue and camera movements is heavily stylised and the film moves with an occasionally dreamlike, occasionally frenetic pace. At first the film was a little jarring, and I never quite found myself connecting with some of the characters, but this is a film that isn’t here to patronise its audience so you have to hold on tight with both hands and let the film take you where it wants you to go.

In this bizarre, almost dystopian reality, we watch as Eisenberg struggles to battle his much more successful double. While Simon finds himself gradually removed from people’s memories and his employer’s computer system his double James is being heaped with praise and is romancing every woman in Simon’s life. Simon’s life was bleak enough as it was without someone coming along and showing him how he could have been living it. As Simon finds himself pushed to the brink of his mind and his existence the conflict comes to a head and the film ended with me just the wrong side of baffled. The only trouble with truly surreal cinema is that it will never quite connect on the same level as a film about a young boy falling in love.

I really can’t do justice to the unique visuals of The Double here in writing. Or for that matter the sound design which was INCREDIBLE, trust me. Instead you are going to have to seek out this gem for yourself when it get’s a UK release.

Some may find it impenetrable but I absolutely love this timeless masterpiece. Slightly too baffling for five stars but a bold and brave film by a director who seems set to continually impress and surprise. Actually… go on then, have your five stars.

The Double is in UK cinemas from 4th April 2014.

BFI London Film Festival 2013

Submarine – DVD Review

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It’s no secret that we love Submarine, and it will take an impressive batch of films in the next five months for it not to reach our top 10 of 2011. This tale of a teenage boy dealing with his parent’s troubled marriage and struggling with a first love is as near perfect as any film this year. Richard Ayoade’s direction is stunning, unpolished and creates frame after frame of gorgeous visuals.

The cast all seem to understand the tone of the film perfectly, from Yasmin Paige and Craig Roberts as the awkward young couple, to Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor as the awkward parents on the verge of breakdown. Only Paddy Considine gives a slightly misjudged performance as a marginally too broad mystic healer.

Submarine is a must-see and for me, a vital addition to my DVD collection.

Extras
The DVD has a fair few added features including a commentary with director Richard Ayoade, author of the Submarine novel Joe Dunthorne and director of photography Erik Wilson, cast and crew Q&As, music video, deleted scenes and interviews. The Q&As are taken from the film’s appearances at various film festivals and mostly consist of Ayoade being completely endearing and self-effacing while avoiding answering any serious question directly.

There is also a full version of Through The Prism with Graham T. Purvis, essentially a long performance from Paddy Considine in character and to camera, and footage from a test shoot which shows just how well planned and considered Ayoade’s style was. With such a low-budget we are sadly lacking any form of a making-of documentary.

This is an essential release and is out on DVD and Blu-ray right now. You won’t regret it.

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