Boston gangsters meet Irish gangsters in an action-comedy from the director of High Rise that keeps surprising the audience with the thrilling dynamics that change as fast as the characters fire the guns.
Ben Wheatley doesn’t stick to genres – more than a year ago, he released High Rise, a novel adaptation that was a gruesome musing on human nature and hierarchies in the society. This time, he returns with a film set in the seventies, told with humour and progressed fantastically. And that’s because he steps away from a typical “crash-boom-bang”. Instead, he leaves the distinction between the protagonists running around in triumph despite the bullets they didn’t dodge and antagonists who are defended quickly. But, as Chekhov says, if there’s a gun on a wall (or a bunch of them in the wooden boxes) in the first act, it needs to be fired in the last – and boy, are there gunshots every minute, pushing the action ahead!
It’s Boston, and two gangs are about to strike an arms deal. The Irishmen Chris and Frank, presumably IRA associates, come to the empty warehouse to buy guns from Vernon, set up by Justine and Ord. Whatever starts as fairly peaceful meeting turns into a gunshot-ridded battle when two of the henchmen from the opposing sides uncover that the night before, they left their business unfinished.
The story here is not overcomplicated, although filled with a multitude of characters. But what Wheatley focuses on is precisely the character development. All of them are different, from their accents to the ways they handle difficult situations. The film preoccupies itself with the tension built on the relations between each of the characters; from their diplomacy at the very beginning, to the final craziness when the shootout turns into a battle for life. How people treat each other is based on calculations and their own personality traits, and after spending the first half an hour with them, you can try and guess what’s going to happen next – only to be surprised by the unexpected twists and bullets fired at the allies. It might be an utterly weird thing to say, but there’s an awful lot of psychology between this action film, and a whole lot of friction that comes with it.
A great deal of humour that springs out of these relationships makes this film even more entertaining. Particularly Vernon, played by Sharlto Copley, brings us comedy gold: as he’s been mistaken for a genius as a kid and never got over that, he’s continuously coming up with ideas fuelled by his grandiose ego and the belief that he’s the most precious, intelligent, and hot person in the room. His “protection from infection” line will be used by every unaware hypochondriac on Earth until the end of times, period. Armie Hammer, Michael Smiley and Cillian Murphy feed off the tumultuous, uncontrolled stream of events, sporting a couple of one-liners, too; Brie Larson’s Justine is lovingly enigmatic, keeping on the edge, but more pragmatic than all the men in the warehouse, as it quickly turns out.
Shot in just one location, Free Fire proves that an action film staged in a single space doesn’t have to feel staged and surreal. Instead, we get a fast-paced sequence that shines thanks to camerawork and shows the power of good editing. The changing angles, the variety of depictions and quick changes of what’s exposed on the screen make this film, shot in Boston arranged in a Brighton warehouse, a delight in terms of brisk pace that keeps the audience interested until the very last minute.
A hilarious take on what we know about action films, Free Fire embraces all the rules to break and rewrite them. With stellar acting and story that’s based on strategy than gadgets and choreographed moves, it makes for a clever watch that’ll also make you laugh out loud a couple of times.