DIR: Ben Wheatley • WRI: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley • PRO: Andrew Starke • DOP: Laurie Rose • ED: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley • DES: Paki Smith • MUS: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury • CAST: Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Brie Larson
Genre filmmaking is consistently hit and miss. For every Quentin Tarantino, there’s an Eli Roth. For every George A. Romero, there’s a Zach Snyder. Genre films range from the grotesque to the absurd to the downright awful. Making a genre film is like mixing dangerous chemicals. On the one hand, you could manufacture a wonder drug, on the other it could all blow up in your face. With Free Fire Ben Wheatley achieves an exciting mix of both results.
Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are two Irish Republicans looking to buy guns from a South African arms dealer, Vernon (Sharlto Copley), and some American middlemen Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer). Rounding out the cast is Sam Riley as drug addict Stevo, an unrecognisable Jack Reynor as Brooklynite Harry and Babou Ceesay as former Black Panther Martin. The film takes place in late ’70s Massachusetts in and around an abandoned warehouse. Following a tense argument over incorrect weapons and an altercation between Stevo and Harry the free fire of the title becomes the film’s reality.
Free Fire is, first and foremost, a technical marvel. Together with co-editor, co-writer and wife Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley brings the trademarks of 1970s action cinema into the 21st Century. Taking inspiration from Peckinpah, De Palma and Coppola, Wheatley builds a kinetic film around his already dynamic script. Free Fire never has a slow moment and even when the bullets aren’t flying the air is filled with verbal sparring and coarse insults. At one point Frank tells son-in-law Stevo that “sympathy is in the dictionary between shit and syphilis. Find it in your own time.” Speaking of bullets a great portion of the film, almost ninety-nine percent according to Wheatley, uses practical effects. Another throwback to the era he homages so well. Live rounds, squibs and pyrotechnics are all in abundance throughout making every scene feel more punchy and gut-wrenching in its violence.
In most modern action films, such as the Mission Impossible or The Expendables series the heroes shrug off the gunshots, punches, and knife wounds. The same cannot be said of Free Fire as characters limp, crawl and worm their way across the crumbling set. Ord uses a crowbar as a crutch for most of the film while Justine uses a home sewing-kit to stitch up a bullet graze. In one stand-out moment for one of the film’s stand-out characters, Sharlto Copley’s Vernon ties cardboard around his injuries in a ridiculous attempt to protect against infection. Wheatley gives every character their moment in the sun but Reynor, Hammer and Ceesay are worthy of special praise.
Free Fire has set a high standard for action cinema in 2017 and beyond. While highly stylised action is nowhere near dead Wheatley makes a convincing argument for bringing Western action back to its roots. Free Fire is proof that the macho action hero was never necessary all you need is a truck full of guns, a great cast, and a smart script.
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Free Fire is released 31st March 2017