“Free Fire” (2017)
Running Time: 90 minutes
Written by: Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Featuring: Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley and Noah Taylor
Harry: “Hey, I like your cardboard armor.“
Vernon: “It’s protection from infection.”
It has been eight years since Ben Wheatley made his debut as a film director/writer/producer/editor with the excellent micro budgeted “Down Terrace” (2009), since then he has made five other films including the movie reviewed here, “Free Fire” (2017). This movie marks the second time that Wheatley as well as his partner Amy Jump have worked with a modest budget, as well as really not making much of a return in terms of a return to investors. While Wheatley is a critical darling in the UK he really has not made much impact beyond those borders, which is a shame as the last two movies he has made (High-Rise (2015) and this one) has had a murderers row of actors appearing in them, such as Oscar winner’s Brie Larsen, Jeremy Irons, as well as huge international stars, Luke Evans, Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Jack Reynor as well as character actors Sam Riliey, Michael Smiley, Cillian Murphy and many others – so he’s not short of friends. It’s a real pity then that that “Free Fire” (2017) as well the previous one have made little critical, cultural as well as financial success as they really deserve better, in fact like many other multi-hyphentes it is possible he should pare down his duties and concentrate on one or two, like writing and directing.
The movie tells the story of Stevo and Bernie who are driving to meet two IRA members, Chris and Frank. The group meet outside a Boston warehouse, where they wait with intermediary Justine. A representative arrives, Ord, who leads them inside. The group is there to buy guns from arms dealer Vernon and his associates, Martin, Harry, and Gordon. Despite tensions between the two groups and the fact that Vernon supplied the wrong weapons, Chris’ group secures the weapons in a van and hand over the money in a briefcase.
Stevo notices that Harry was the one who beat him up the day before, and refuses to go near him, irritating Frank. Harry eventually notices and lashes out at Stevo, furthering the tensions between the group. Stevo seemingly apologizes, but then brags about what he did to Harry’s cousin. Infuriated, Harry shoots Stevo in the shoulder. Both groups split off and begin shooting at each other.
This is truly an odd movie with the entire plot front loaded in the first thirty minutes, then non-stop action, blood and violence for the next hour. It could be argued that this is almost the same as Tarantino’s debut “Reservoir Dogs” (1993), but that would be missing the narrative element that was employed there, where the director not only played with time but also toyed with emotions through the very different characters as well as employing the music he became known for in his next few outings. Here though Wheatley dispenses with any kind of narrative flourishes so that when the plot has been explained (almost fully I might add) there is absolutely no where for each of the characters to go and that’s saying something considering this is a massive cast – with little time whether it be story time or actual time for any of them – which is a huge opportunity missed, its almost like Wheatley had the idea of the movie then took the rest of the night off – it shows you need more than the idea of an idea and a great cast – it really does smack of laziness.
As you would expect from a Ben Wheatley movie the casting is amazing with the standouts for me being Armie Hammer as the go between of the buyers of the illegal weapons, the IRA led by Cillian Murply and Michael Smiley, backed up the drugged out, bumbling idiot savant Sam Riley. While the sellers of the firearms are led by the wise cracking Sharlto Copley, who here reminds me of his debut in “District 9” (2009), all mouth – he is a great actor to see in full flight but he does have limited range so the material should suit his set of skills.
Unfortunately for me this is possibly Whealtey’s weakest and least coherent movie to date, I have enjoyed the way he takes a story but adds a twist that is completely out of left field but makes it work so well, particularly in a cinematic sense as well as his usual narrative flourishes. Wheatley also uses very small budgets to serve as a strength to his mode of film making, when there are limited choices to make in terms of time and money he always seems to make the correct one. He has also for the most part (“High-Rise” exempted) used small intimate casts of actors (as well as characters), which again seem to suit the director as he can maintain control over all aspects of filmmaking. With his last two movies there has been a wider net cast in terms of the troupe of actors, what worked well in “High-Rise”, that is having a huge cast of well known actors that for the most part have proved themselves on stage as well as in movies (Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, and Elisabeth Moss) does work so well in “Free Fire” where many of the actors used are actually unproven and so they all seem to be doing their own thing which works against what plot exists here.
There have been many movies set completely or for a large part of the narrative in one space, there are obvious advantages to this – the budget can be tighter as well as small, the actors can live in their environment, there should be a decreased amount of preparation, the space can be intimate not only for the crew and cast but also for the audience, tension can be ratcheted up as the need for escape is always present and many other factors that can only be known to the people making the movie. One of the great examples of this as mentioned is “Reservoir Dogs” where all of these points are touched upon with a big cast all having their own day in the sun. However here in this film there just feels like there are no stakes at the beginning of the story and by the end I was hapy for it to be over, even with its not too long running time – it is almost as if Wheatley ran out of steam, got disinterested and hoped it would take care of itself – unfortunately it doesn’t.
Now while this is an interesting premise for a movie it is not the best with very little to hang on to as a viewer so in the end it is watchable, the actors are fun to watch and there is quite a bit of action, but I would hesitate to actually purchase this movie, so would say it is worth a watch but maybe on a streaming service.
“Free Fire’ is released on the 30 August 2017.