The latest film from British director Ben Wheatley is always a hotly anticipated affair. Seamlessly able to switch from genre to genre in the blink of an eye – whether it be pitch-black gangster comedy Down Terrace, occult horror Kill List, twisted comedy Sightseers or the Dystopian sci-fi class satire of High Rise – Wheatley manages the transition with ease and assurance. Two things are guaranteed in all of his films though: violence and dark comedy will always be nearby.
Free Fire is no different.
It’s no spoiler to say that it’s a 1970’s-set warehouse-based arms deal that goes completely pear-shaped when a trivial spat between two of the parties escalates into full-blown bloodshed, leading to the titular free-for-all. And that’s essentially it!
The first ten to thirty minutes is all character-building as the battle lines are drawn and the heirarchy mapped out for the audience with amusing banter, commands barks and lackeys jumping through hoops for their dapperly be-suited bosses.
Once the simmering tension finally explodes and the bullets start flying, a large amounf of the characters are superficially wounded, resulting in an hour and a half of the cast crawling around on the floor with impressively realistic wounds, scrabbling for weapons, hiding, shooting at each other and dying violently.
In other hands this would probably become very dull, very quickly, but in Wheatley’s hands the film is actually a lot more fun than it sounds. Sith Afrikaan actor Sharlto Copley (District Nine, The A-Team, Chappie) is an absolute hoot as the Sith Afrikan gang boss Vern (or ‘Viiiiirrrnnn’ as he pronounces it) and every line that come out of his mouth is knowingly played for laughs. And there are lots of them. This is before his sexist, sleazy, chauvinistic ways are mentioned. The whole cast in fact are great: Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley and the always-brilliant Michael Smiley are just a joy to watch as they bicker, bitch, sneer and scheme to try and make it out through the roller-shutters alive.
The initially-simple and predictable plot is peppered with a few surprises to keep the audience interested, so just when you think the plot is becoming ever so stale, some fresh ingredients are wazzed into the mix to spike things up again.
The use of music – always sublime in Wheatley’s films (check out High Rise for Portishead’s spine-tinglingly brilliant cover version Abba’s ‘S.O.S’ as evidence of this) and the use of ‘Annie’s Song’ by John Denver is particularly haunting here too. The use of it during one particularly scene is funny, moving, sad and thrilling all at the same time (how many Directors could pull that off?) quickly truncated by yet another gruesome death (probably the worst, actually!).
Oh yes, there is death. Lots of death. As mentioned, Wheatley’s films are normally a fine balance of brutal violence and pitch-black comedy – any number of scenes from Sightseers will attest to this) and it’s not long before the next character is snuffing it via crowbar, knife, fire and, predictably, lots and lots of bullets. One character is even shot right in the nose, which this reviewer had never seen done before, and it is grim!
About four-fifths of the way through the film, the battle fatigue does admittedly start to wear a bit thin and the attention did very briefly start to wander, just before a final plot development did regain the interest to see the audience through to the home stretch.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable, funny, and violent comedy-thriller and fans of Wheatley’s films will not be disappointed: it is definitely worth the watch and the sparkling dialogue means it will certainly stand up to repeat viewings too. Not quite as good as his previous films but a great piece of entertainment all the same and a devious final scene twist turns the whole film on its head, leaving the audience with more questions than answers and makes sure you never quite know who you should be rooting for. Solid entertainment that is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Now will somebody please give ‘Viiiirrrrnn’ his own film???