Review: Ben Wheatley's 'Free Fire' is a Crazy Fun and Comical Ride

April 21, 2017

Ben Wheatley's Free Fire

It's difficult to say which is sharper in Ben Wheatley's latest film, Free Fire: the bullets being fired by the nefarious characters found within or the witty jabs those characters tend to fling at one another between the continual barrage of deadly gunplay. One may kill you, but the other may actually hurt your feelings. As with his previous films, Wheatley presents Free Fire with a gleefully dark sense of humor, the ridiculousness of events playing out made all the more senseless when you take into account where everyone's mindset is at. That sense of humor – not to mention the aberrantly comical characters – washes the onslaught of violence down all the easier, though, and, with Free Fire, Wheatley once again proves to be a unique voice in the filmmaking world.

A film about a gun deal in 1970s Boston gone wrong, Free Fire's director moves his characters into play with stealth and precision. Two members of the IRA, Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), are meeting their gun suppliers, Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Martin (Babou Ceesay), in an abandoned warehouse along a pier. The IRA members are joined by an intermediary, Justine (Brie Larson), and the gun dealers with their own go-between, Ord (Armie Hammer). On either side are a pair of bumbling helpers or drivers: Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) on the buyers' side and Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor) on the side of the suppliers.

Discomfort grows between the two groups at first when the IRA members realize the suppliers have brought them the wrong type of assault rifle, but things take an even more dangerous turn when the realization that certain members have a genuine beef with members of the other side sets in. It isn't long before guns are drawn, lines are crossed, and everyone ends up with a gunshot wound of varying degrees of severity. That's when the real shooting begins.

With all these characters moving about the warehouse set and with inevitable double-crosses hanging in the background, you may think it'd be easy to get lost in all the muck, especially when bullets begin to fly. As one character shouts amidst all the violence, "I've forgotten whose side I'm on!" Wheatley's meticulous grip on his screenplay, which he co-wrote with frequent collaborator Amy Jump, allows the back-and-forth to breezily wash over you. Their attention to detail plays out as much in favor to the story as it does to filling in the spaces of the film's confined set. There may be confusion from time to time as to who is shooting whom, but there's never a question as to who's being aimed at.

Free Fire Review

That goes for the gunplay as well as the verbal sparring that Wheatley and Jump include in their screenplay. These characters each have a chip on their shoulder, and none of them are shy about letting everyone else in the room know about it. Wheatley and Jump's dialogue is extremely quick-witted, and, with the two also serving as the film's editors, there isn't an ounce of space wasted in the narrative. This momentum drives the film's pace with a steady and determined trajectory making Free Fire a completely rollicking and effectively energetic action/comedy.

The same, determined aesthetic can be found in Wheatley's direction. Once again Wheatley collaborates here with director of photography Laurie Rose, and the team at work behind the camera has an equally strong hand in Free Fire's constant momentum. Even with the confined area in which they're working, the camera builds a solid foundation of geography and space as it moves about the dark and dusty corners of the warehouse. As with the film's narrative, itself, there doesn't seem to be a wasted inch of space in the set being used.

Nor does there appear to be a wasted opportunity when it comes to the cast. Each character is allowed their own sense of levity, some laying on the ham a little stonger than others, but it all suits the character at hand. Larson gives a strong performance as the seemingly most rational person in the room as she screams for everyone to "calm the fuck down" to no avail. Copley, on the other end of the spectrum, is a delight of silliness, something the actor tends to lean towards in most of his performances, but it suits his Free Fire character just fine. He seems to be the least self-aware person in this room of violence, but that allows him the more juvenile moments of humor here.

The remainder of the cast is weighed down by solid performances, as well. Hammer and Murphy play equal parts cool but with a slight tinge of macho-headed fatuity. Smiley, a longtime performer under Wheatley's direction, is always a sight for sore eyes. Riley and Reynor play similar levels of character on either side of the bullet barrage: slimy and completely lizard-brained but not without a modicum of adorable oafishness. Theirs are probably the funniest to watch amongst all the chaos through and through.

All of this comes together in a wonderfully dark but unnervingly funny action ride courtesy of one of the best filmmakers working today. The attention to detail Ben Wheatley and his crew show makes its presence felt in all aspects of Free Fire, some of them with that added bonus of piecing the film's subtext together after the credits have rolled and the energy exuded has begun to die down. There is much being said in Free Fire about the ridiculousness of violence and the inevitable results from such ridiculousness, but, apart from this, the film is still an absolute joy of chaotic violence and cynical humor. A little bit disco, a little bit punk rock, just a dash of John Denver, but loaded with undeniably funky '70s cool, Free Fire is another sampling of Ben Wheatley as a filmmaker playing a unique beat on his own drum, and the results of his talent are endlessly rewarding.

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    So very happy to hear that Wheatley has made another great one. He is a unique beast of a director.
    • deerosa
      This movie is far from great :(
  • Zack Smith
    Saw it. Didn't care for it.
    • Bo
      Yea, I've heard it's pretty lame...and a bit infantile rather then witty or funny or even amusing. I also heard it's not doing well at the box office which surprises me quite frankly as it seems right up the alley of today's audiences.
      • LeoForPrez
        BUUURNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN!!!! People are so dumb!!! But you are so smart. Way to rise above genius!!!!
      • I didn't see it, and don't think I'll pay to see it, but I doubt it's dumber or as insulting as Chips. Man! What happened to hollywood?
        • Bo
          Good question, tarek. It started with the big blockbusters catering to the mass audience. Out of that lowest common denominator audience came these young filmmakers and thus...this movie...and this movie certainly isn't as lame as Chips, but it's aimed at the young male yahoo audience for sure. This seems along the lines of Green Room which I found so lame and silly I had to wonder just what it offered to the crowd who loved that movie. I didn't pay to see that movie, nor will I this one. As you've noticed, I'm sure, how members of the dumbed down mass audience get very upset at those that have no use for these kinds of movies. An interesting facet indeed. Cheers.
          • Speaking about blockbusters, and while few of them are gold (fifth element, Aliens, etc.) I agree that not enough effort is put into these "special effect compilations" to reach a more demanding audience. Yesterday I saw King Island and regretted it. Such a waste of talents. How come guys as talented as Hiddleston and goodman accept to play in a movie devoided of any emotion. I didn't care for any of the protaginists, nor did I for the baddies. Character development was nil.
          • Bo
            I would guess the two actors you mentioned did the movie because they were very highly paid and they knew huge audiences would see them...something most actors crave. They are not artists seeking to express themselves. Just court jesters dancing for a buck. Hiddleston's seems like an interesting guy and time will tell what kind of career he will choose to have. I could care less about any of them, quite frankly. As I harp about until I'm literally blue in the face, the movies today cater to the lowest common denominator in order to generate huge business. 99% of movies today are comparable to a roller coaster ride or any other type of vapid ride in the local amusement parks scattered about the country. Nothing is required except to willingly leave your brain at the door and allow yourself to be mesmerized by loud noise and heroes flying thru the air.,'s pretty crazy. Yet...there was Moonlight and Manchester Sea so all is not lost...close but not yet. Here's hoping you'll stop wasting our money and time on King Kong
          • I had 7 bucks and two hours to kill. And because I wanted to check if this movie really deserved the 78% or so it scored on rotten. Well... I must belong to the 22% ratio. ;D I watched the post credit teasers, and confirmed that kong was just an excuse to introduce the new monsters cinematic universe. Beware boys, Mothra and Godzilla are coming. I am not against that kind of movies, even if it's not my cup of tea. But at least make the characters believable and relatable. When I ride a rollercoaster, I expect to be thrilled. It's not the case with nowadays blockbusters.
          • Bo
            Wow...7 bucks...I'd probably go to a lot more movies if they were only 7 bucks....maybe...I quit going because it was just a waste of time as I always was disappointed in one way of the other so I just catch them when...and if... they come around on my cable. Even then 8 times out of ten...maybe 9 out of 10 I don't like them. However, I can record them and watch them at my leisure over a few nights or just speed/fast forward thru them like I did The Hateful Eight...not sure I even saw all of it as even doing the ole speedo thing it was still silly, vapid and boring. Later gator....
          • Watched it from start to the end and didn't like it either. It was a bad (revisited) remake of reservoir dog with a bigger budget. I'm not a fan of Tarantino, but he made few movies that I liked, like Charlie Brown, pulp fiction and reservoir dog. As for the ticket price, I go to the movies in the matinee or tuesday where the tickets are cheaper. That being said, I go 4 to 5 times per year because of the lack of quality.
          • Bo
            I'm not a fan of Tarantino and never have been. Tried with Reservoir Dogs when it first came out, but all I could think about when watching it was the much better very early Kubrick film The Killing with Sterling Hayden. That film is much more my cup of tea then anything Tarantino has done. To my surprise, when I watched Django on my cable, I found myself quite amused by it and chuckled thru-out it.'s Jackie Brown, not Charlie't it?...I used to go during the week at the cheaper matinees, but they are no longer cheap in my neck of the woods. I want to see this Lost City of Z because I really liked the director's The Immigrants, but it's only playing at the ArcLight and is like 15 bucks even in the middle of the way I'm ever going to pay that!! Plus it has Charlie H. the guy from the just awful Sons of Anarchy so I'm a bit hesitant...then again, Django had Jamie Foxx...ugh...and I still got some good laughs from it. One never knows...even when one is pretty
          • Peanuts! My fingers slipped. It is Jacky Brown. I liked deNiro in this role. He was hilariously scary. One has to give Tarantino the merit to have a distinct and unique style. Django was a decent one. Inglorious Basterds had one of the best opening scenes I had to watch. A pity it was ruined by what followed. Lost city of Z seems to be highly praised by the critics. I don't know...I wasn't convinced by what I warched in the trailer. So I'll stay on the fence until I'll watch it for 7 bucks ;D
          • Bo
            Numbers just coming in for the week end and this Free Fire dog poop crashed and burned big time. On just over a 1000 screens it made like 35 grand over 1 mil. That's like $972 per screen for the 3 days. You don't get much worse than that with that kind of extremely low per screen average. Ya got me...I thought stuff like this would bring out the young guys in droves, but apparently not. Can't imagine why, but no one can...especially those in Hollywood making and putting out this nonsense. It's all a mystery to me,
          • Maybe it's part of a bigger plan: to level down our intellect. So in the long run, we would consider "Grown ups" or "trainwreck" as classics.
          • Bo
   think you're right, tarek. I'll fight 'em to the end though as they've never made a dent in my intellect yet in this long, fruitful life of mine...and never will. Not so for the many, like this little ineffective poop fly that's buzzing around my head on this by any other name I reckon...poor Oh...saw a funny new series last night from Canada I believe titled Mary Kills People...I was surprised, but it's kind of smart and was on my cable Lifetime channel...check it out if you can. Cheers, tarek.
          • deerosa
            Tarek, you are on point with this one.
          • LeoForPrez
            "but it's aimed at the young male yahoo audience for sure" So? Do you cry that Babies R Us is aimed for 2 year olds?
  • deerosa
    Saw this movie yesterday and was excited to see it. Do yourself a favor and not go see it. Chuckled maybe twice and it got old in 20 minutes. Disappointed....oh well.
  • A total bore-fest after a pretty cool setup in the first 20 minutes. Simply a long, tedious and confusingly shot & edited action set piece with a few choice quips thrown in by the characters, not one of which we give a shit about. Several other films in this extreme gunplay genre at least end up making some point about the insanity of all the violence, but this film doesn't even have that on it's mind.




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