Review: Free Fire

Image: StudioCanal UK

★★★★★
Director: Ben Wheatley
Starring: Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley
Length: 1hr 30m
Rating: 15

Ben Wheatley has been outspoken about his increasing disconnection from the extravagances of modern cinema, where often we are bombarded with so much spectacle that it loses all its weight, or led by the hand through an old story with a new, characterless face. In Free Fire, the gunshots are deafening, the suits are bullet-porous and most of the characters are recognisably incompetent.  A cast including Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Cillian Murphy and the Wheatley regular Michael Smiley spent a few weeks rolling around in a filthy warehouse in Brighton to bring us this, a film bereft of most of the trappings of Hollywood and all the more entertaining for it.

When a multinational group of crims arrive at said shady warehouse for an arms deal, the audience is treated to a parade of 1970s chic, facial hair included. From the very first gunshot, it’s obvious that said clothing won’t survive the film, and everything degenerates rather quickly. What follows is a prolonged gunfight that bucks many of the trends with which modern audiences are familiar. These nods to reality are not token stabs at other films, but ways of making Free Fire an engaging and visceral cinematic experience that would fall at the first hurdle without them.

What plot the film has is driven by the unpredictability that stems from a room full of snarky, self-confident men shooting at each other for reasons which even they have difficulty discerning. The audience truly can’t tell what’s around the corner when the characters themselves are blissfully unaware and there is no invincible hero to back. Despite the real danger that all the characters are in, and the almost painfully loud gunplay that tears across the screen, the dialogue serves to reveal the ridiculousness of the whole situation. Laughter, alongside occasional wincing, is overwhelmingly the reaction elicited by most of the characters, in particular Copley’s preening Vernon. Larson’s Justine, the film’s lone woman, rather brilliantly serves as a foil for the various male egos that fill the warehouse, with even more hilarious consequences.

Free Fire manages to pick at genre clichés without taking itself too, or at all, seriously, and does so with verve, wit and an ensemble cast who grab the material by the scruff of the neck. My intention is to see it again as soon as possible.

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