Review: Free Fire
PLOT: A mob/IRA arms deal in a remote warehouse goes horribly awry when a beef between two thug foot soldiers erupts into an epic, no-holds-barred gunfight.
REVIEW: For anyone who might have thought director Ben Wheatley’s (underrated) HIGH RISE was a little too high-brow, his follow-up, FREE FIRE is the perfect antidote. Notably returning him to TIFF’s Midnight Madness for the first time since KILL LIST, this ninety-minute, adrenaline charged, action comedy started the fest off on a hilariously high note - with the packed Ryerson auditorium hooting and hollering with approval at the epic carnage they were treated to from start-to-finish.
Basically a single gunfight stretched out to feature-length, this is Wheatley’s first attempt at an all-out action flick, and a return to the gangster genre , which kicked-off his career with DOWN TERRACE. Notably his first U.S production, Wheatley’s assembled quite the rogues gallery both in front of an behind the camera, with none other than gansgter movie king Martin Scorsese on-board as an executive producer.
Despite the period (1978) Boston setting, most of the gangsters, minus Brie Larson and Armie Hammer, are played-by Europeans. Sam Riley and Jack Reynor are unrecognizable as the two foot-soldiers whose beef ruins an already screwed-up arms deal between Sharlto Copley’s cowardly South African arms dealer and Cillian Murphy’s tough but honorable IRA soldier, in-town with an Irish comrade played by regular Wheatley scene-stealer Michael Smiley.
It’s fitting that the only two North Americans are Larson and Hammer, as both are outliers. Larson is the sophisticated lady who set-up the arms deal and has to navigate all the clumsy come-ons (such as Copley telling her “Charlie must be missing an angel tonight” a nice nod to the casual sexism of the era), while Hammer is the dope-smoking, well-coiffed hired gun. Considering she just won an Oscar for ROOM, FREE FIRE is a neat departure for Larson, being part of an ensemble and handling Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump’s clever dialogue with aplomb.
It should also be said, Armie Hammer has never been better than he is here, rocking a seventies beard like no one’s business, and a chipper attitude that runs contrary to the insane carnage he becomes a part of. As far as the cast goes, Murphy is the closest we get to a hero, as he’s the only one with any motivation beyond money, but even the worst baddie has moments of heroism, with the tide turning as each shot is fired.
On a technical level, FREE FIRE is probably Wheatley’s most sharply made film, with the sound design especially good. Each gunfire sounds like a deafening explosion, which is something as literally thousands of rounds are fired. He also has fun with the tropes of the genre, with everyone being hit multiple times and shrugging-off their wounds or finding time for a quip.
It’s worth noting that FREE FIRE is also exceptionally well-edited, with the ninety minute run-time perfectly bringing the concept just to the brink of wearing-thin but never going beyond that. It ends exactly when it needs to. The seventies era also gets poked-fun at, with music from a John Denver 8-Track underscoring the movie’s most brutal scene, and the clothes being something special to behold (Hammer’s well-oiled beard is also quite magnificent).
An absolutely blast from beginning to end, FREE FIRE works as both a rip-snorting action flick, while simultaneously serving as a savvy send-up of the gangster genre. It’s so much fun and like Wheatley’s other yarns, something that demands to be watched with a game, fun-loving audience on a big-screen. This is prime midnight-movie fare and a delicious early TIFF treat.
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