Friday, 31 March 2017

Free Fire - Dir. Ben Wheatley

Beards, bullets and bloody-minded idiots collide in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire: a lean, rollicking cinematic jolt to the senses.

An abandoned Boston warehouse is the meeting point for an arms deal between Irishman Chris (Cillian Murphy) and cocksure South African Verne (Sharlto Copley); each accompanied by a band of merry henchmen and mediators to ensure the deal goes smoothly. After rumblings of deceit and unsavoury transgressions emerge, the palpable tension is broken by gunfire and a chaotic fracas in the rubble ensues.

And that’s essentially it, in terms of a traditional synopsis at least, as the messy shoot out is allowed to play out right to the bitter end. In less capable hands, the trading of bullets would grow wearisome but it doesn’t here thanks to the strength of the characters.

In the brief moments of calm before the storm, the script from Amy Jump and Wheatley swiftly and thoroughly establishes everything we need to know about the gang of rebels and ruffians, namely what and who gets on their nerves. We don’t need to know their histories and ambitions and time is not wasted in giving us them.

Much like Rogue One, some will complain that Free Fire lacks “character development”, by which they mean it lacks characters going through a change during the film. What Free Fire does deliver is developed characters; each one of the participants in the unruly squabble is developed into a human being, complete with their own strengths and foibles. Frank (Michael Smiley) is a good right hand man to Chris but gets ruffled by the disarmingly charming Ord (Armie Hammer). Gordon (Noah Taylor) wants to impress and Martin (Babou Ceesay) grows increasingly tired of Verne’s tetchy temperament. All of this informs the decisions made once the pistols are drawn. We are not made to root for one side over the other but we understand each of the personal battles, some less petty than others, and how they inform the proportionate twists and turns in the story.

Did I mention that Free Fire is loud… really, really loud. The booming volume of the gunfire is the result of Wheatley’s desire to move away from the modern trends in action cinema. The action in Free Fire is realistic without being un-cinematic; graphic without being cartoonish. A bullet to the leg banishes that player to the ground, leaving them no option to crawl to safety for the rest of the shootout. It may be one grand shootout (meticulously designed and choreographed before filming) but there are always several mini standoffs going on to keep the story alive as back rooms and offices are explored.

There would be an undeniable sadness to the absurd nature of it all if Free Fire weren’t such boisterous fun. “Please can we just calm the f*** down!” exclaimed Kate Ashfield’s Liz amidst a zombie breakout induced lapse of common sense in 2004’s Shaun of the Dead. Justine (Brie Larson) similarly attempts to curtail the deteriorating situation before it gets irrevocably out of hand, but her shouts fall on deaf, and deafened, ears. And we get to enjoy every preposterous minute of what happens next.

Free Fire is in UK cinemas from Friday 31st March 2017

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