Febiofest Review: ‘Free Fire’ an Instant Cult Classic
Two opposing sides in an arms deal gone wrong shoot it out in an abandoned warehouse in Free Fire, the latest film from burgeoning British director Ben Wheatley (Kill List, A Field in England, High-Rise).
And that’s all there is to the entire film: it’s one long, extended firefight in which thousands of bullets are fired and characters slowly die from their wounds. It becomes something like a war movie in logistical terms, but also features a wicked sense of ironic humor that never lets up.
It’s 1970s Boston and Cillian Murphy is Chris, an Irishman looking to buy some automatic rifles with his partner Frank (Michael Smiley) to presumably send home. At the meet, they’re backed up by Frank’s junkie brother-in-law Stevo (Sam Riley) and witless pal Bernie (Enzo Cilenti).
On the other side is South African gun runner Vernon (Sharlto Copley, in full scene-stealing mode) along with Martin (Babou Ceesay) and backup Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor).
Caught in the middle of it all is Justine (Brie Larson), who has arranged the deal between the two parties, and Ord (Armie Hammer, a real hoot here), ostensibly hired as Vernon’s muscle, who doesn’t seem to give a shit about anyone involved.
It’s a terrific cast full of talented performers that Wheatley really cuts loose, and everyone involved is given a moment to shine within their characterizations.
But as soon as things go south about twenty minutes into the movie, they all spend the rest of the film crawling around the dusty warehouse floor, hiding behind makeshift barricades, and trying to figure a way out while exchanging gunfire.
It’s a Tarantino-like setup that’s especially reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs (especially given the warehouse setting), but unlike any other Tarantino-influenced enterprise that followed in the director’s wake during the 90s, this one has an identity all its own.
That’s because Wheatley never lets on that he’s in on the joke. The characters here are acerbic and scathing and frequently glib about their situation, but the writer-director never lets us forget the gruesome reality of what’s going on, even when he’s delivering some bitter and brutal irony.
Wheatley’s previous films, like Kill List, which put him on the map in 2011, have been compelling and challenging features that force the viewer to confront what they expect to get from a genre film.
Free Fire is challenging enough: because of our ambivalence towards the entire cast, we never know what’s around the next corner, or who is going to make it out alive.
But otherwise, it’s the easily director’s most accessible, and perhaps best, film to date. This one is simply a blast, a movie that’s engaging, suspenseful, and mordantly funny from beginning to end.
Special shoutout to the sound design: you hear and feel every bullet fired with an almost-deafening blow and subsequent ricochet or gruesome entrance into flesh. It’s something that usually goes unnoticed, but adds a great deal to the presentation here.