Free Fire (with Q&A with Ben Wheatley & Sam Riley) Review
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Sam Riley Armie Hammer, Michael Smiley, Sharlto Copley, Jack Reynor, Noah Taylor
Running Time: 90mins
Over the course of the last decade Ben Wheatley has become one of the most prolific and daring directors in British cinema and hot off the heels of last year’s audience splitting “High Rise” comes “Free Fire”, an all-star ensemble action flick.
This is a film that will probably come as a surprise to regular Wheatley watchers due to its narrative straightforwardness and respect for genre conventions. As generally the director is known for making things a bit more out-there be it in the aforementioned “High Rise” or with the occult horror of “Kill List” or the jet black comedy of “Sightseers” or the all-out madness of “A Field in England”. Not that there is anything wrong with balls-to-wall gun’s ablazin’ action movies it is just not what you would expect from him.
There is something in common with his previous work though as the film is mainly set in a single location, though this is as much of a budgetary thing as it is an artistic one. The film is set in Boston in 1978 and sees an Irish gang led by Chris (Cillian Murphy) try to buy some guns from another gang headed up by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and has been set up through neutral party Justine (Brie Larson) but as you can probably guess this arms deal does not go exactly to plan leading most of the rest of the movie into being an extended shoot out in a large dockside warehouse.
The main reason for it falling apart is down to an incident that happened between crackhead and agent of chaos Stevo (Sam Riley) and a purported incident with a family member of the rival gang member Harry (Jack Reynor) which may or may not have happened but certainly starts the two brawling and devolves into everyone in both gangs shooting at one and other.
The shootouts themselves are meticulously choreographed and unlike a lot of shoot-outs in modern cinema can be followed as they do not suffer Bayesque ADD editing. The action is also unusual do to the judicious use of music. Where usually the action sequences of today have a blaring soundtrack there a fair long period’s here where there is no music at all. Another thing that makes them stand-out for ordinary action fare is every shot counts there is no people shaking off bullet wounds like they are nothing here.
Interspersing the shooting, of which there is a lot, is plenty of whip-smart and very funny dialogue from the pen, well keyboard, of Wheatley’s long-time collaborator (and wife) Amy Jump. Many of the funniest exchange come in back and forth’s with Chris’s right hand man Frank (Michael Smiley) and Vernon’s hired gun Ord (Armie Hammer). While it is entirely unsurprising Smiley is hilarious, and he is in wonderful cantankerous form here, it did come as a surprise at how funny Armie Hammer, as he is more known for playing straight-faced All-American types (that said he is supposed to be drolly humourous in, some say wrongly, derided Lone Ranger movie), but he is and delivers some of the best one-liners of the movie.
Also surprisingly funny is Sam Riley. While he is a fine British actor Riley has since his big screen debut as Ian Curtis in “Control” has developed a reputation for playing awkward, brooding, introspective but kind of cool character’s whereas Stevo is none of that instead he is a freewheeling, shambolic, foul-mouthed wreck and is one of the highlights due to that.
They are not the only character highlights though as all the characters get their share of funny lines and generally entertain. It also entertaining to see Academy Award Winner Brie Larson crop up here, although apparently she was hired on this before Room came out. She does well to hold her own amongst all the blokey banter, this is after all a film set in the 70’s so casual sexism, ahoy! (To be fair only from the characters I would not say the film itself is sexist). Sharlto Copley is the other international star in the film and also excels as the buffoonish and bouffant arm dealer Vernon.
If there is a slight frustration with the film is that it does feel a bit like we have seen this all before but that is maybe beside the point as this is clearly a homage to a certain type of crime/action thriller of the past. Also while it may not have any discernible narrative depth you will probably be too busy having a good time while you are watching it to pay much notice to that.
Overall: Certainly not original and not quite touched with the same sort of brilliance as say “High Rise” but this sweary, shooty film is action packed, tautly suspenseful and frequently hilarious.
Q&A with Ben Wheatley & Sam Riley
Directly after the screening there was a Q&A session with director Ben Wheatley and actor Sam Riley and I mean literally just after as the credits were still rolling when they came on stage. They were initially being interviewed before questions were thrown out to the audience. Much like in the film Riley surprised with just how naturally funny he is whether telling the how audience why he had the best character or what it was like doing a certain stunt, which I won’t go into as it would be a spoiler, or whatever else. It was a fun Q&A generally as there were a bunch of fun behind the scene tales. Highlights included the fact Brie Larson, understandably, believing the film was going to be filmed in Boston, as it was set there, up until the point she got a plane ticket to go to Brighton and a very funny story Wheatley told about Sharlto Copley who had come up to him to ask how to play Vernon saying that he knew many hard nut types from growing up in South Africa and could play him like that or could play him…well…shit. To which Wheatley replied: “Tell me more about this playing him shit”. The questions from the audience were generally well thought out too whether asking about influences or the use of music or how they managed to map out the shoot-outs. Typically of these sort of events though someone always has to make it about themselves, and it is always a bloke for some reason, and there was one here too as a guy rambled on about his viewing experience of, nearly, Wheatley’s entire back catalogue before finally getting to his question. Which was actually a relatively decent question about whether this was Wheatley attempt to become more mainstream (Answer: No, not really he just wanted to make an action movie that was an action movie and not some surrealist take on an action movie but he will continue making weird movies). There was also another bloke who decided to ask like three questions in one but bar these annoyances it was an informative, engaging and entertaining Q&A.