As proven with his already impressive slate of films, British director Ben Wheatley has a unique, creative and wonderful vision. With a cast as impressive as this one, a proven knack for retro flair as demonstrated in 2016’s insanely brilliant ‘High-Rise’, and a singular location (which on paper seems more than a little Tarantino-esque), expectations were very high for this one. If you’re familiar with Wheatley’s previous films, this might prepare you a little for what is in store, but really, nothing can prepare you for the delightful absurdity that is ‘Free Fire’.
The plot revolves around an arms deal which takes place in a Boston warehouse in the late 1970s, and yes that is pretty much it. That’s not even me trying to be careful with the plot details for fear of revealing spoilers. Of course, there is far more to the film than just that, but the nuances of the plot and the story are not the key to this film, the key is just the incredible way it all unfolds, and let me tell you, it gets crazy.
This film is nothing short of genius, and it is absolutely a film which needs to be experienced on the biggest screen possible. It’s a rollercoaster ride of non-stop action, quips, blood, bullets, violence, laughs and it is all quite brilliant. ‘Free Fire’ packs an awful lot into its incredibly short 90 minute run-time, and it’s such a joy to watch that it feels like it passes by in a heartbeat. It’s a balls to the wall, fast and frenzied, pure bonafide masterpiece.
The way Wheatley weaves the various parts of the narrative together is incredible, and resembles something like an intricately choreographed dance routine. Everything feels deliberate, crucial and necessary, with each piece having a purpose, a place and a meaning. The way the pieces all fit together is incredibly tight and it rarely lets you stop for breath. Whilst the action is pretty relentless, it still somehow manages to make room for incredible character interactions woven throughout, and it’s one of those films you need to watch again in order to appreciate every single element. The film feels like a living, breathing organism, which is hard to convey in words, but there is constantly something happening. When there’s focus on a character in the foreground, there’ll still be a character in the background or a quiet line heard in the distance which will suddenly grab your attention. It’s a complete assault on the senses and is utterly exhilarating from start to finish.
‘Free Fire’ is incredibly grandiose, almost operatic in its execution, which when paired with the singular setting makes for an intensely dramatic, yet wildly entertaining piece of pure magic. The singular setting works so well, with every corner of the warehouse utilised, making it seem vast, sprawling, and epic. Whilst obvious comparisons could be made with Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’, they are completely different beasts. Cues might be taken from Tarantino’s love of violence and over the top blood splatters, but Wheatley’s unique vision makes sure it stands as a film on its own merit. It’s like a Tarantino movie if someone actually sat him down and said “Look Quentin, let’s take this 3 hour movie and pack it all into 90 minutes, ok?”
Whilst I don’t doubt that ‘Free Fire’ will be in the conversation come awards season, it’s unlikely to be for the acting performances. Rather than being a reflection on the cast however, it’s really because through and through, ‘Free Fire’ is an ensemble piece. It really might be time to bring in that Best Ensemble Award, Academy. There’s no weak links whatsoever in this cast, and despite there being many characters, each has their part to play, each is important and has a reason to be there, and each has their moment to shine. Sharlto Copley shines ever so slightly brighter than the others; his wildly exaggerated South African accent provides endless laughs, and to spoil anything else that happens with this character would be a crime, but it is very satisfying.
With so many characters and different pieces at work, the emphasis is very much on the visual and the spectacle, but this is never to the film’s detriment. Detailed character development and an overly complex plot is not the name of the game here, but when a film is this ridiculously entertaining, this won’t even cross your mind. The sound design in this film was really exceptional as well, with a symphony of bullets and gunfire providing much of the soundtrack in the absence of a more conventional score. It’s loud, brazen, and in your face, and it bloody loves it!
I can just about accept that this film won’t be for everyone, and some might feel it is lacking something, but for me, ‘Free Fire’ is a masterpiece, and I don’t say that lightly. It’s full scale, all-out insanity, sheer unadulterated madness, with a steady build up of tension and character rapport before the bullets start raining, the bodies pile up, and the blood flows freely. And boy is it fun to watch it all unfold.