After the complex and rather operatic JG Ballard adaptation High-Rise, Ben Wheatley has gone for something that’s far simpler in terms of plot, but perhaps just as complicated in terms of technical execution with Free Fire.
It’s the 1970s, and in a warehouse in Boston a group of American are hoping to sell some Irish men some guns. Things are already a little tense and distrustful when it’s revealed the weapons aren’t the exact ones ordered, but things get completely out of hand when one of the Yanks realises one of the Irish guys is the man who assaulted his cousin the night before.
At that point the guns come out and it’s all-out war, with the two sides attempting to kill one another and then hopefully walk out with money and/or weapons. Things get even more complicated when a third faction turns up, and nobody is sure who they’re working for, or who they might be willing to shoot.
After the set-up, the entire movie is literally just a shootout which goes on for about an hour. People may move from one hiding spot to another, but it’s a single location and various characters doing their best to shoot each other. It’s violent, dirty and surprisingly fun.
The first third helps set up with characters, from Armie Hammer’s suave/smarmy middle-man and Sam Riley’s impetuous Irish grunt, to Jack Reynor’s Boston goon and Brie Larson’s smart negotiator. To be honest, once the shooting starts it doesn’t matter too much who these people are, but it helps to get you invested in just who is shooting who and why. It also helps that the movie keeps a sense of humour and seems to realise that it’s verging on the ridiculous at times – not least how many times someone can get shot and keep going. But it doesn’t care.
Admittedly, some will find the whole extended shootout a little tedious if they can’t just lie back and let the action wash over them. They may also dislike the fact the movie almost revels in the fact that none of the characters in it are all that likeable. Indeed, there are moments when I almost wondered whether Wheatley and co-screenwriter Amy Jump were almost experimenting by setting out to make a movie with ‘rules’ that conventional wisdom says shouldn’t work. If they did, they certainly made a success of it, aided by a cast that seems to be having a blast.
Overall Verdict: It may just be a very extended shootout, but Free Fire is surprisingly fun, with a great cast and a good sense of humour.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac