Year: 2017
Director(s): Ben Wheatley
Writer(s): Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Region of Origin: UK

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
Color, 90 mins

Synopsis: Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival. (Source)

Free Fire isn’t just a blast, it’s a relentless barrage of bullets, loud mouths and sharp humor – and you’ll love every second of it. True to form, director Ben Wheatley isn’t content to give audiences what they think they want, but deconstructs the crime drama with a locked room premise and macro focus. Imagine Reservoir Dogs blended with Hateful Eight, except this ain’t no mere Tarantino riff, but an eccentric oddity that only Wheatley could deliver. Not a single thing is wasted here, as Wheatley’s characters navigate a botched arms deal with the grace of a buzzsaw and the wit of a smooth talking con who won’t take no for an answer. Armed with an ensemble of actors who can deliver rapid-fire dialogue that cuts like a knife, Wheatley’s film is a thrill-a-minute ride that never lets up until that gutsy last frame.

In 1978 Boston, a deal is about to go down, but not the one that anyone involved expects it to be. Ragtag group Frank (Michael Smiley), Justine (Brie Larson), Chris (Cillian Murphy) and their gang have a meeting set up with the smooth-talking Vernon (Sharlto Copley). Vernon is accompanied by his associates, Martin (Babou Ceesay) and Ord (Armie Hammer), all of whom are a bit high strung, but ready to do business. The merchandise is a bevy of automatic weapons, but before an exchange can get underway, tensions erupt based on a squabble from the previous night. In the blink of an eye, everyone’s grabbed their gun, hiding behind cover, and all bets are off. It’s everyone for themselves and no one will stop until they get what they want.

The main hook behind Wheatley’s film, is that rather than building to your typical, climactic shoot-out, the story is one chaotic, prolonged showdown in which anything that can happen, will. By extending what’s typically only given a few minutes at most, Wheatley ends up with a subversive romp in which the story and its characters live and thrive through the action. Once things are briefly set up, Wheatley smartly handicaps each character in various ways, making sure that everyone is trapped with each other and within the rundown warehouse where it all goes down. The way that Wheatley keeps the story fresh is impressive, with dialogue mostly sparse, half-spoken sentences or terse whispers which create a dense ecosphere of greed, misfortune and shifting alliances. As things continually unravel, each person’s motivations are revealed and no one is in it for the same reason, but the complexities of it all are clearly plotted, even amidst the hail of gunfire and chaos. The film’s also very stylish, with one of the best uses of John Denver ever, contrasting with gritty but colorful mayhem and even bouts of gleeful gore. Really, no stone is left unturned here, as a briefcase of money remains stranded at the middle of the room and the real villain is each character’s own ego.

With such a stripped down premise, it’s paramount that the ensemble keep up with Wheatley’s shifty plotting, and they do. Though everyone has their moment, it’s star Sharlto Copley who is the film’s real MVP. It’s my firm opinion that the guy is our most underrated character actor, and his brash, arrogant Vernon is one for the books. Everything the guy says is magic, but Copley’s sense of misplaced bravado and operatic gleefulness is on its own wavelength. He could carry the entire film by himself, and you’re magnetized to whatever he says. Armie Hammer’s Ord is great as well, with the actor delivering the most pragmatic of the bunch, yet he manages to punch in a few beats of sly humor along the way. As the only woman in the film, Brie Larson gives Justine a nuanced performance that shows she doesn’t have to just hang with the guys, she can transcend them, adding a realistic, fierce perspective. Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, all of these guys are great, but rather than me saying why, it’s best to see for yourselves. No one feels redundant, and everyone adds something to the mix.

Note for note, pound for pound, Free Fire takes what we love about the genre, amplifying these traits to eleven, while finding its own niche along the way. Wheatley’s sense of twisted humor is a highlight as usual, never taking things too seriously even as it gets dark from time to time. When all is said and done, Wheatley’s created a surefire classic, a jazzy, lean film that offers irreverent thrills and even crazier characters. I already can’t wait to see this one again, just to get lost in its manic mayhem.

SG