Around 7,000 individual rounds of ammunition were expended in Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire. When the first bullet left its gun, the unexpected discharge echoing around the cinema made me jump (honestly); by the end, I definitely wanted more.
Free Fire is set in 1970’s Boston, cleverly filmed in Brighton, and takes place over a single night in just one location: an abandoned Massachusetts warehouse. An arms deal brings together an unlikely band of participants: Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley and, longtime Ben Wheatley veteran, Michael Smiley, amongst others.
After a drawn-out opening of deception and unease, things go from bad to worse in an instant: a bloody standoff ensues, shots are fired and, really, that’s all there is to it.
From the premise, it sounds like Wheatley’s work was cut out for him. How does one keep an audience occupied for 90 minutes with only a single location and a diverse group of criminals?
A process of desensitisation occurs during Free Fire, for both the guns and, regrettably, the humour.
What starts as a tension-building arms deal eventually descends into a petty squabble of insults accompanied by gunfire. At first, the insults are genuinely hilarious – the array of characters offer a number of angles of comedic value.
What I fear, however, is that the barrage of comedic insults undoubtedly earned a laugh from the audience simply because there was so many included.
Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s script is undoubtedly unique and, truly, it is enjoyable. What I believe it lacks, however, is a lasting impression. Much like Wheatley’s other films, namely The Kill List (2011) and Sightseers (2012), a second viewing does not retain his film’s initial impact. Consequently, they are better enjoyed as a single experience.
I find the environment you view a film in has a lot to do with your initial perception of it. In retrospect, I fear that, from the outset, I was unintentionally biased towards the film.
I viewed Free Fire on March 1st 2017 at a preview event at the Tyneside Cinema.
The screening was followed by a Q&A with director Ben Wheatley and Sam Riley – maybe viewing the film in the presence of the guy that created it has an effect… you’re not exactly going to pick out the bad points, are you?
Consequently, film’s hilarity stemmed, perhaps, from the fact that I was in a room full of Ben Wheatley fans: if a crowd laughs, you typically laugh along with them, right?
Benjamin Lee of The Guardian confirmed my fears with his underwhelmed 2-star review:
“Once shots are fired, the film descends into a repetitive orgy of bullets and bad jokes. The constant shooting is confusingly choreographed with frenetic camerawork… the sheer noise of the film begins to have a repellent effect.
The squabbling between the characters is clearly supposed to be snappy but there’s a sharpness missing, with humour broad when it should be biting.” – Benjamin Lee, The Guardian
In all honesty, I genuinely enjoyed Free Fire.
Whether it was the situation in which I viewed it in or not, it was still an experience I’d urge you to consider.
What I do suggest, though, is that if you go on to see it following its release on 31st March 2017, go and see it with some friends: it’s one of those films that is made better by a collective viewing.
Look out for:
- Fantastic performances from Sam Riley and Babou Ceesay, Stevo and Martin, respectively.
- Paki Smith’s production design: he transforms a seemingly dull singular location into a fascinating scene of survival.
- The best ever use of makeshift armour seen in film (beautifully exhibited by Sharlto Copley)
- A mind-blowing death scene towards the end of the film, reminiscent of The Kill List.
Ben Wheatley fans will undoubtedly appreciate Free Fire; the uninitiated may be left wanting. All in all, it’s a pretty good action film with an interesting premise, nothing more, nothing less.
Thanks for reading!