The latest film from the normally unsettling British film director Ben Wheatley, allows you to leave the cinema with a smile on your face and conversation on your lips. This is something of a departure as his previous work, excellent though it is, tended to leave the viewer in a partial state of numbed distress. People would gather their things and shuffle away from the screen with a glazed “thank god that wasn’t me” look in their eyes. That’s not to say that I would wish to swap places with any of the characters in this rumbustious 90 minute film.
The premise is a simple one. Two gangs meet in 1970’s Boston, one gang wishes to buy a cache of guns from the other, given the nature of this transaction, you can probably guess that the people involved may be, shall we say, slightly unsavoury, so unsurprisingly things don’t go quite as planned.
The action mainly takes place mainly in one location, a large disused warehouse. So as the unfolding collapse of the deal unfolds, the script and direction needs to be on top form to keep us engaged. Luckily Ben Wheatley and his co-writer Amy Jump have produced a hugely entertaining piece and the pace of the film never lets up as we watch these two bands of incompetent rouges set about each other.
Whereas previous films from Wheatley and Jump have had undeniably funny moments, they tended to be of the guilty ‘oh my god they are doing that” variety. Free Fire though has wise cracks and banter aplenty, as the two sides attempt to dismantle their opponents with their abusive putdowns as much as their prowess, or lack of it with the weapons at their disposal.
It’s very much an ensemble piece, with everyone providing great performances. Oscar winner Brie Larson provides one of the few cool heads in the film with great timing and detachment in her role as the broker of the ill-fated deal. Arnie Hammer and Cillian Murphy are the respective brains on either side but get dragged down to the same level of bloodlust by the wonderful incompetence, stupidity and malevolent violence of their colleagues. Sharlto Copley is brilliant as the magnificently vain and egotistical Vernon, more worried about any damage to his suit then the harm befalling anyone else.
The film is witty, clever and overflowing with foul mouthed language that crackles around the auditorium and the same speed as the ferocious amount of gunfire that peppers virtually every minute of the film. In lesser hands this film would have become a tedious shoot out bore, Wheatley and Jump though keep the laughs and the energy running throughout the film.
The original music for the film is provided by local lads Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow, their third completed collaboration on film work. It is though, very different to the brooding synth dominated work that they provided for EX_MACHINA (winner of the 2016 Ivor Novello award for best original soundtrack) and the Drokk project that eventually emerged as “inspired by Mega-City One. Too be frank, they did well to squeeze anything into the gaps between the almost relentless gun fire but the brooding Prog influenced work that they and their band of Bristol musicians produced enhance the mood of the film beautifully. There are also few classic old nuggets from the likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival and John Denver amongst others to put you right back in the 1970’s.
So, in conclusion, a fast paced, very funny period piece of 70’s shootout fun, that may leave you a little jumpy if a car should backfire anywhere near you!
The film is on general release from March 31 2017