For those who are familiar with Ben Wheatley’s previous work, his films are not meant for audiences of the light-hearted. But that’s not to say that the films are bad in any way. In fact, they are actually very good. Wheatley is very inventive and effective in directing films that create tension, horror and sickeningly dark humour. Especially so in the likes of Kill List, Sightseers, High Rise and Down Terrace. Over the years, these trends of his have created a sort of cult following in his audiences (not like the kind from Kill List). All of us wanting to know what the devilish British director will come out with next. As I am also part of said cult-following, I had tickets immediately booked for a preview screening of his newest film, Free Fire, once they were made available. Needless to say, I found the film to be extremely entertaining.
In a nutshell, Free Fire tells the story of two Boston gangs meeting up in an abandoned warehouse in the hopes of an arms deal. However, it all turns guns-blazing once it is revealed that one of the gang members is out for blood with someone of the opposing gang over a personal grudge. It’s essentially Reservoir Dogs if it was directed by Michael Mann. Except the film is also bloody hilarious (“bloody” being used here both figuratively and literally) and set in the slick 1970’s. The action-comedy genre is a first for the likes of Wheatley and while I knew I was in for something good, I still had small amounts of doubt that he might not be able to pull it off. I feel it’s necessary for me to reiterate here how wrong I was in having these doubts.
The characters in the film establish their motivations and their personalities from the outset. Each are rather cartoonish but I mean this in the best way possible. Bernie and Stevo are the first that the film introduces us to. Both are found in the front seats of a white van driving down a street at night. Seems normal enough. Only Stevo’s face is covered in bruises and blood from being beaten up the night before. Bernie being the helpful friend he is offers him some crack to help with the pain. The two are portrayed as a standard pair of idiots.
The other members of their gang: the Irishman Chris (Cillian Murphy), and the two main leaders of their gang, Justine (Academy Award Winning Brie Larson) and Frank (Michael Smiley), all wait for the idiots to arrive so that they can meet up with their middleman Ord (Armie Hammer) and make their way into the warehouse for the deal. The banter shared in this moment between this ensemble cast feels natural and fresh. Chris comes off as the no-nonsense, thuggish type (“Fuck the small talk, let’s buy us some guns, eh?), Justine as the mysterious, femme fatale type (“We can’t all be nice girls”) and Frank as the professional IRA-type who leads them all in the warehouse and discusses the deal with the suave and sarcastic Ord.
The opposing gang members: Vernon “Vern” (Sharlto Copley), Harry (Jack Reynolds) and Martin (Babou Ceesay) are fleshed out in similar fashion. The performances in the film are fierce, eccentric and hysterical. Especially Sharlto Copley’s role as the egomaniac Vern. He shined the brightest from the others in my opinion. Although, there should be an honourable mention for Jack Reynolds’ performance too. I got the impression that all the Free Fire actors got along well with each other behind the scenes as well as on the screen.
Ben Wheatley’s elements of the graphic, bloody violence also make appearances in the latter end of the film. Luckily, it feels appropriate and justified like the rest of his films. I would recommend this film to people who are sick of the clichéd and lazy action film-making of today and for those who enjoy the directors and actors previous work.
Currently, Wheatley is touring preview screenings of Free Fire across the UK and gives those who are interested the opportunity to meet the man in person. I found him to be funny, witty and passionate about films and film-making. However, for those who can’t make it to one of these preview screenings, it will have a UK release on Friday 31st March 2017. Don’t miss it!