We’ve come to expect the unexpected from the eclectic films of indie filmmaker Ben Wheatley, as his rule-defying style can twist and mould genre conventions to fit his dark directorial visions. His latest project, which he co-wrote with his wife Amy Jump, is 70s crime caper Free Fire. The action unfolds over just one night in a derelict umbrella warehouse in Boston, Massachusetts. When business associates Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) team up with facilitator Justine (Brie Larson) for a dodgy deal with Vernon (Sharlto Copley), Ord (Armie Hammer) and their squad of gun-runners, the tension is palpable. Not even so-called allies fully trust one another, let alone enemies so when an argument breaks out, a brutal shoot-out ensues.
The idea of an hour long gun fight can sound a little bit exhausting, and I often think that character depth and development can get lost when lengthy action sequences are at the forefront of a picture. In this case though, the razor sharp script is so prominent in the narrative that the shooters become richer and more textured as the plot thickens. The snappy Tarantino-esque dialogue amplifies their flaws and the flimsiness of the trust they share, and at times it’s like watching a squad of Mr Oranges scrambling around for survival in pools of blood. Despite being trapped in one grimy nondescript location throughout, Wheatley achieves a satisfying seventies style through a chic soundtrack and ludicrously garish outfits and facial hair.
You’d have to look pretty hard to find any redeeming features from characters involved, and the cast revel in the villainy of their roles. Cillian Murphy delivers a smart twist on the Shelby-type coolness that he has been loved for in recent years, in a part that was written specifically for him. The legendary Martin Scorsese is attached to the project in an exec producer capacity, which filed the cast neatly in a diverse identity parade, with Michael Smiley providing typically dark Irish humour and Sharlto Copley hamming it up as a cartoonish South African goon. Armie Hammer and Sam Riley are particular standouts from the wild bunch, playing slick negotiator and cowardly snake respectively.
With his most mainstream effort to date, Ben Wheatley’s sixth feature Free Fire isn’t as daring as it could be based on his previous work, but it is frenzied, frenetic and full mouthed in the best possible way. There’s an unmistakable passion and enjoyment of cinema that seeps into his movies, and that is as evident as ever in this accomplished crime-comedy. The savage fast gags are as quick-fire and as punishing as the bullets and the relentless tempo is exhilarating from start to finish.
See the trailer: