Free Fire is a 2017 crime comedy film. Directed by Ben Wheatley (High Rise, Sightseers) and starring an ensemble cast featuring Cillian Murphy (Sunshine), Brie Larson (Kong: Skull Island), Sharlto Copley (District 9), Sam Riley (Control) and Michael Smiley (Kill List). The film was produced by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorcese.
Free Fire opens with IRA members Chris (Murphy) and Frank (Smiley) going to meet with South African arms dealer Vernon (Copley) in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Boston. They are accompanied by hapless duo Stevo (Riley) and Bernie and the meeting is facilitated by Justine (Larson) and Ord. Initial tensions over weapon specs and protocol soon descend into violence as it emerges Stevo was involved in an incident with one of Vernon’s crew the previous night. This transforms into a prolonged shootout between the two gangs that lasts most of the movie as they fight to get out of the warehouse alive, and preferably with a briefcase of money.
Free Fire is a return to Wheatley’s (and Jump’s) comedy stylings first flexed in Sightseers, as well as a return to his crime caper debut Down Terrace. Here the action is transplanted to America where a whole mix of accents serve to support the witty script. Murphy, Smiley and Copley all get to use their own accents whereas Riley effects a Bostonian twang. The script is packed with killer one liners with Sharlto “watch and Vern” Copley stealing the show as the pompous, but still somehow affable, Vernon. Riley is also perfectly cast as the scummy junkie who throws the spanner in the works but who you also somehow root for, despite learning of his psychotically violent tendencies.
Unfortunately, there’s not a great deal more to say about Free Fire as not a great deal more happens, and here is where it starts to slip down the mighty totem pole of Wheatley instant classics. Around an hour of the film is simply one group of people shooting at another group of people and, sadly, no amount of pithy dialogue can sustain that. It’s also a pretty bloated cast with, ironically, the American actors Larson and Armie Hammer left trying to play catchup with their international counterparts in between shots being fired. There is a peppering of gore to keep things interesting and a tremendous sequence involving a van driving in circles to a John Denver soundtrack but, overall, the film limps to a close rather than the kind of explosive finale seen in Kill List or Sightseers.
Ben Wheatley is arguably the best director in the UK with a string of tremendous, and varied, films on his CV but Free Fire would have to rank fairly low on that list. A middling film from Wheatley is still better than a lot of directors best efforts and, perhaps, crime films just aren’t my thing (Down Terrace is also one of my least favourite Wheatley films). Free Fire is an amusing romp that, very nearly, kept me entertained throughout, but certainly won’t leave as much of an impression as some of Wheatley’s more bizarre efforts.
*** 3 Stars
What did you think of Free Fire? What’s your favourite Ben Wheatley film?