Overview: An arms deal goes sour leading to a long, long shoot out between two gangs. A24; 2016; Rated R; 90 minutes.
Shooters: Ben Wheatley is possibly my favourite director working today. He makes the kinds of movie I like, and he does it with style and wit. He also directed some great Doctor Who episodes, so that definitely puts him in my cool book. His filmography can’t really be pinned to a single genre and with each movie he has honed his skills and pushed himself forward. In accordance with this pattern, Free Fire is a fantastic movie made with an assured hand. It is a film of tiny scale with a small cast and simple plot. It’s 90 minutes long and even though approximately 85 of those minutes are concerned with gun play, Wheatley keeps the energy up and manages to not make the movie sag or become repetitive.
The director is helped by a cast you would sell your soul for: Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Michael Smiley, Sam Riley, Arnie Hammer, Enzo Cilenti, Noah Taylor, and, often stealing the show, Sharlto Copley. Everyone is on top form here, and even though Copley is firing on all cylinders, each actor gets a chance to stand out.
Shootout: Free Fire is the story of an arms deal between Copley’s South African gun runner (described as having been misdiagnosed as child genius and never getting over it) and Murphy’s Irish gang that includes the perpetually angry Smiley and junkie dickhead Riley. When Riley and a member of Copley’s gang come to blows over a previous argument, tensions rise, and when someone pulls a gun and starts firing, all hell breaks loose.
Free Fire is a very funny film packed full of great lines and absurd situations as people keep getting shot, changing allegiances, and trying to grab a briefcase full of money that’s been left right in the open where there is no cover from the constant gunfire. Wheatley manages to make all characters sympathetic enough that while there are clear villains in the pack, it is hard to decide who you are rooting for.
As with all of Wheatley’s previous movies, the soundtrack is killer, everything looks gorgeous, and there is a constant sense of inventiveness with the choice of shots and the use of sound. Definitely see this in a movie theater with a great sound system as the gunshots will rock you in your seat.
Overall: Free Fire—with its great cast, simple premise, and lean run time—is like a pre-packaged cult movie. It is dark but hilarious, violent but also cartoon-ish, enjoyable from the first minute to the great ending. As always, I look forward to what Wheatley does next, but it’s worth stopping to appreciate that seeing Free Fire and High Rise in the same year has managed to definitely take some of the edge off of 2016.
Featured Image: A24