Ben Wheatley has once again pulled it out of the bag. ‘Free Fire‘ also has an Exec Producer list as long War and Peace. One of the first names under this credit is Martin Scorsese, who sat in on some of the edit. If that doesn’t hook you, there’s also the all-star cast, namely Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Jack Reynor, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley... the list goes on. More on the performances later.
The number one thing that feels distinctly different about ‘Free Fire‘ when compared to the rest of the Wheatley canon is the pace. There are a couple of scenes to establish a handful of narrative threads, albeit very briefly. After that the foot is put down on the accelerator and we whisked through the rest of the film without a moments respite.
This is sold as a crime / action picture starting with a gun deal that goes wrong. What really happens is that it goes wrong, and again, and again. It is also very funny. Co-written by Amy Jump, the dialogue here is smart, yet unapologetic. It really isn’t problematic that we aren’t given a clear side to stick with as the shoot-out escalates in the first half of the film.
The actions of some characters are deplorable, yet the other individuals and alliances that form hate these misguided actions as much as the audience. Vern (played by Sharlto Copley) is the clown of the piece. He is farcical, and this is perhaps taken a little too far. It’s a fine line in a feature that is already so unexpectedly packed with humour. I fear that if you go in to this expecting it to be a straight-laced action shoot-out, the punchlines will undermine your expectations.
The performances are terrific. Sam Riley‘s Stevo is stubborn and steers the narrative at times. Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley are convincing as the provisional IRA members. Jack Reynor, Brie Larson, Babou Ceesay, and Armie Hammer, are all up to scratch. The fact that these characters are put through tough conditions means that there’s a physicality to each performance that is demanding of the actors. The characters are bloody and sweaty. They are made to crawl and roll through conditions which are visibly gritty. The action rarely leaves the dirt of the warehouse floor.
What’s more is that the editing, matching the action, is fast paced but valuable. The cuts separate each individual ducking for cover, and then again in the next beat as they reveal themselves to fire a round of ammunition. The match of camerawork and the editing leads us to a omniscient view of the film, despite the ever-changing complex relationships within the story. The action sequences are perfectly realised as a result of the cinematography. With the addition of careful choreography, we see exactly who is where and what their intentions may be.
This is unlike anything Wheatley has done before. It packs punches, and then some.
Crime, Comedy | UK/USA, 2016 | 15| 31st March 2017 (UK) | Glasgow Film Festival | Studiocanal | Dir. Ben Wheatley | Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copely, Brie Larsson, Armie Hammer