UK/France | 2016 | Directed by Ben Wheatley
Logline: After two crews of criminals rendezvous in a derelict warehouse the meeting goes awry and an extended shootout ensues.
It’s Boston, 1978. Frank (Michael Smiley), an IRA head honcho is about to front a guns deal with a South African merchant, Vern (Sharlto Copley). With Frank is his right hand man Chris (Cillian Murphy), and assisting with the cold hard cash transaction is Justine (Brie Larson). They’ve recruited a couple of muscle heads for the job, Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), who turn out to be a tad on the flaky side. Vern has brought his own muscle, Ord (Arnie Hammer), plus his right hand man Martin (Babou Cessay), and drivers, Harry (Jack Treynor), who has some beef with Stevo, and Gordon (Noah Taylor). It’s this very recent history - Stevo has a black eye to prove it - that will cause the entire clandestine meeting to go entirely pear-shaped, and, as the title suggests, a free fire erupts.
If there was ever a prime cut example of a movie that excels and succeeds brilliantly on a very simple premise with no too-clever-by-fucking-half convoluted plot shenanigans, then Ben Wheatley’s nod to the great 70s exploitation shoot ‘em ups is the one. It's an unbridled genre joy. The moment the first pistol is fired, and the pungent smell of of nitroglycerin, sawdust, and graphite is swirling in the air, it’s all on for the stupid and the smart, it’s every man - and one woman - for themselves. Ain’t that the damn truth.
With a healthy disregard for those with sensitive ears, the dialogue crackles and spits with obscenities and expletives, it’s the kind of discourse that would make Martin Scorsese smirk with excitement, especially as the movie is also violent as hell. Hang on a minute, I think I saw Scorsese’s name listed amongst the executive producers, yeah, that’d be right, he’d want in on a piece of this action, especially as Wheatley is one of the most interesting, dynamic, and all-round talented cinematic directors of his generation. I may have been disappointed with his adaptation of High Rise, though it looked a treat, but with Free Fire Wheatley has delivered, arguably, his best movie since his amazing debut, Kill List. Along with Sightseers, it’s his most unabashedly entertaining.
Along with his wife and very talented partner-in-crime, Amy Jump, who co-write the screenplay and edited the movie - and she has co-written and edited all his features - Wheatley keeps Free Fire moving at a brisk and volatile pace. The movie cost $10m and much of that probably went on armoury and ballistics, some on the excellent cast, who all deliver stellar performances, with special mention to Sam Riley’s hilarious fuck-up Stevo, Shallot Copley’s asshole-with-a-capital-a Vern, and Noah Taylor’s relentless Harry, while the rest of the budget probably on the superb period wardrobe. Ha!
What makes Free Fire so mindlessly brilliant is that Wheatley and Jump haven’t tried to pepper the narrative with too much of what soooooo many young filmmakers think is necessary in this post-Reservoir Dogs world (man, that shit’s been happening for more than twenty years now!): blocks of Tarantino-styled smart-arse dialogue. I’m over it. I’ve been over it for years. That shit was fine in Tarantino’s early movies, but Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight bored me to tears. Anyhoo, ‘nuff said. Free Fire is less about the banter and more about the ricochet, and that’s what makes the movie so memorable. It’s simple, no bullshit; just a mean, dirty, dusty game of death in an enclosed space. But, it just so happens to be bloody funny too, and it sports a killer ending.
The comedy is dark as motor oil and most of it is pooled from the humour school of Bruce Robinson; the Withnail and I character-based cumulative-style that builds through behaviour and interaction, with short retorts, pithy wisecracks, not lengthy pop-cultural referential monologues. Okay, so it might seem like I have a bee-in-my-bonnet about Tarantino, but I’d be lying if I said Free Fire doesn’t owe something to Tarantino, and certainly, it would make for the fucking best double-feature with Reservoir Dogs.
Free Fire is an instant cult classic, a year's favourite, and one to be reloaded time and time again.