British director Ben Wheatley’s last film High Rise, adapted from J.G. Ballard’s last novel with his screenwriting partner Amy Jump, divided fans and critics alike. Some saw it as a pretentious, pseudo-profound mess while others lauded it for its originality. His latest, Free Fire (again with Jump penning the screenplay) plays like a counter move. With a simpler premise, no apparent social commentary and the vibe of an ensemble comedy with guns, Wheatley, Jump and co. are giving their audience a break from the heavy stuff and a chance to enjoy this talented duo letting their hair down.
The film opens close to where it ends. Taking place in 1970s Boston, an agitated Frank (played by Wheatley regular Michael Smiley) is waiting on latecomers to show up so they can get an arms deal underway. With Frank is Justine (Brie Larson) and Chris (Cillian Murphy) and eventually the tall, cool-as-ice Ord (Armie Hammer) who lays down the ground rules of the deal. The gang eventually moves to a nearby dilapidated warehouse in which, after a violent exchange between two more members (the script juggles a large number of characters) things go arse-up and everybody shoots at each other for the remaining hour of the film.
The film’s cast is reason enough to see the film. In addition to those mentioned above, Aussie actor Noah Taylor has a small part and Sharlto Copley plays a smarmy idiot with some of the film’s best lines. Every character is a light sketch bordering on caricature, but Jump’s script nicely balances the personalities, defining them via their mid-gunfight banter. Each actor delves just deeply enough to find something likeable with their character or to establish chemistry with their co-stars. Wheatley for the most part makes it easy to follow what’s going on but there are too many long stretches of bullets flying back and forth, with very few plot developments or breaks in the action to keep things varied.
If you think about it too much, you might start wondering what the point of Free Fire is – don’t. Enjoy the film at face value. It’s an action-packed romp with a bunch of established actors having a great time. The audience at my screening clapped and cheered during some of the death scenes and overall seemed to be having a great time. If you don’t think about it too much, you will too.
Tom Bensley is a freelance writer in Melbourne who reviews anything he attends, watches or reads. It’s a compulsion, really. Follow him @TomAliceBensley.