Ben Wheatley’s back catalogue is rich in style and substance, from the dark horror and humour of Sightseers to the grit and claustrophobia of Down Terrace to the suspense and ultimate chaos of Kill List to the artistic hypnosis of the triumphant A Field in England. Despite being unconvinced by High Rise, I couldn’t help but marvel at its textured layers of satirical and political chaos – a swirl of artistic insanity. Wheatley is a world builder; evident in his versatile portfolio of directorial work. He now returns with the highly anticipated Free Fire, his first film to take place outside of the UK. Bloody warfare quickly ensues when a collective of crooks meet with an arms dealer in an abandoned warehouse. With several middle men and women involved it quickly becomes apparent that nobody knows who they can trust. A small group of Irishmen, an arrogant and foolish South African supplier, and mysterious snipers who nobody seems to have invited, resort to gory extremes to protect themselves when the deal swiftly falls through. With almost all the action taking place within a few square metres of concrete rubble, there are obvious comparisons to be made between Free Fire and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Both films use fragile masculinity and the stubborn male ego to fuel both the fun and the fury they contain. Yet, both feel like very different films. Reservoir Dogs is a masterpiece in which the audience observe the characters’ conflicts from a far. Free Fire throws us down into the debris with its individuals – making us as sensitive to each shower of bullets as those they’re aimed at. Set in Boston but full of familiar British talent, Free Fire proves a new direction for the director who refuses to ever conform to what we’ve come to expect from him. Wheatley’s latest demonstrates his ability to work within American indie cinema but through projects that still feel quintessentially British.
Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley are an expected delight with Smiley returning to work with Wheatley after a remarkable turn in A Field in England. Murphy knows this territory well and gives a powerful and charismatic performance, mainly driven by light flirtation with Brie Larson’s character who bridges the gap between all parties involved in the fatal deal. Sharlto Copley appears right at home in the company of the rest of the cast – giving the film’s most vicious and comical performance. Armie Hammer is the smooth-operating and good-looking freelancer who quickly loses patience with all involved – whom he was originally trying to bring together for a peaceful criminal exchange. The dialogue is snappy and punchy – insults fired back and forth as aggressively as the bullets shot from shaky hands. Sam Riley is tremendous as a Boston junkie and complements the performance of Jack Reynor who I’m delighted to see on screen again following a terrific turn in last year’s Sing Street. Free Fire is full of loud characters and even louder haircuts. The costumes and hair are desperately camp – another element we don’t expect from Wheatley’s aesthetic. The film’s sound design is impeccable. There is wonderful use of the contrapuntal along with complex and visceral sounds of the bloody massacre taking place. Free Fire is a big, dumb movie made intelligently – well-made, violently executed, feel good cinema.
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