Film Review – Free Fire (2017)

Freewheeling and riotous, Ben Wheatley’s violent and raucous chamber piece, Free Fire arrives on blu-ray this week. Showcasing a lively and engaging cast, Wheatley’s cheerfully exploitative piece plays out almost completely within the confines of a single warehouse room, spotlighting an arms deal gone bad that deteriorates into something resembling a very violent pie fight.

IRA gun runners Michael Smiley and Cillian Murphy arrive at a sleazy riverside warehouse to meet with ostentatious arms dealer Sharlto Copley to buy a stash of machine guns. Their seemingly simple deal, which begins badly when Copley brings the wrong guns, goes south courtesy of their mouthy associates Sam Riley and Jack Raynor who bring their previous arguments to the table with fatally disastrous consequences.

Wheatley has a decent track record of spinning out single-location drama and getting the most of cramped confines. A Field in England, as the title suggests, played out within a single field and hit dreamy, psychedelic heights while remaining close-knit and claustrophobic. It’s something of a shame then that Free Fire, amusing as it is, seems slightly hobbled by small-scale and limited nature of screenplay.

It has not gone without notice that the finished product resembles nothing a million miles away from the absurd Naked Gun 2 1/2 rooftop shootout in which Frank Drebin tries, and fails, to hit a target two feet away. It’s not a bad comparison as, in all honesty, Free Fire has the feeling of a comedy sketch that has been teased out to feature length, but missing the exaggerated sense of lunacy in the Naked Gun series; or at least some more bite to make it feel genuinely frenetic.

It’s not that it’s not entertaining. It is for the most part, and Wheatley has coaxed some amusing performances out of his cast, most notably from Copley. The slight hindrance comes from the fact that, after the set-up and initial burst of excitement, Free Fire settles into a kind repetitive rhythm of blasting and cursing before a finale that elevates the pretty ordinary premise.

You’re put in mind of some horrendous adaptation of a three-minute children’s cartoon: like what would happen if Tarantino really had guest directed an episode of Itchy and Scratchy. The problem is, that fleeting vision always seems better in one’s own mind than the finished product that Wheatley presents.

Chris Banks | [rating=3]

crime, comedy | UK, 2016 | 15 | 31st March 2017 (UK) | Studiocanal | Dir.Ben Wheatley | Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Brie Larsson, Armie Hammer | Buy: Free Fire [Blu-ray]