Free Fire (2017)

D: Ben Wheatley. DP: Laurie Rose. W: Amy Jump & Ben Wheatley. Starring: Armie Hammer/Sharlto Copley/Cillian Murphy/Brie Larson/Sam Riley/Babou Ceesay/Michael Smiley/Jack Reynor/Noah Taylor/Enzo Cilenti.

British filmmaker Ben Wheatley’s new film sports endless flash. Gunshots galore explode throughout his film centered on an arms deal gone wrong. The filmmaker himself deftly describes Free Fire as a crime thriller that never begins as the ‘extra’ characters’  drama gets in the way. The film could have gone in many directions, but rather gets stuck in one warehouse with too many guns.

Free Fire is Wheatley’s follow up to last year’s adaption of J.G. Ballard’s novel High Rise. Similar in construction, this film finds all its characters trapped in a warehouse rather than a high rise building. Does Wheatley enjoy agonizing over working in a specific unchangeable set? Here in Free Fire the setting is 1970s Boston (though the location is easy to miss and irrelevant). Irish Chris (Cillian Murphy) attempts to buy guns from South African Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and literal chaos breaks lose.

Copley steals a lot of the laugh and the show as pompous Vernon who cares more about his suits at one point than his bullet wounds. His feathered hair and mustache gives great dandy vibes against the bleak costumes of former agent Ord (Armie Hammer) and Chris. Every time he calls Justine (Brie Larson) a ‘bird’ you are a reminded just where you are in history. As time stands still in the warehouse all actors physically step up to Wheatley’s humor and the humor in violence.

Working on that level, violence as humor, Wheatley is more subtle than other directors like Quentin Tarantino or even say, Edgar Wright. His script is tight (written with writing partner Amy Jump), but the spacing within the warehouse might be discombobulating to some. I rather enjoyed the feeling of not knowing precisely where everyone was. This conceit allowed the humor to erupt and the pacing to remain up although it lags as it enters into the third act. As for Larson, still coming off her Oscar win last year for Room, she becomes the access point for the audience. This is the a memorable quality of Free Fire. Wheatley uses his only female character as the tint through which the excess is consumed. A fun solid thriller, the film turns a genre into pure enjoyment and brings along a John Denver soundtrack to boot.

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