Free Fire (2016)
Directed by: Ben Wheatley | 87 minutes | action, comedy, crime, thriller | Actors: Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Michael Smiley, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Babou Ceesay, Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Mark Monero, Patrick Bergin, Sara Dee, Tom Davis
Bullets are flying around your ears in the latest from British filmmaker Ben Wheatley. For the idiosyncratic filmmaker it is already his sixth project and after his moderately received but hyper-ambitious last work ‘High Rise’ (2015), we are suddenly dealing with a very different kind of film. ‘Free Fire’ (2016) is a well-organized and accessible genre film with minimal ambition but a lot of fun. The film is set, with accompanying swinging soundtrack and wide pipes, against the 1970s background of Detroit. And behind this ‘shoot-out’ film is a suspiciously simple starting point: two parties try to sell weapons to each other and that goes completely wrong.
‘Free Fire’ is set entirely in a single abandoned factory and a motley crew of characters pass by as the situation escalates. The comparison with Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ (1993) is never far off and, as in that work, ‘Free Fire’ is a film with modest ambition. We never leave the constraint of a single derelict factory, nor is there too much backstory. The characters instinctively react to a situation in which it is every man for himself. So the only question is: who is the last one standing?
With ‘Free Fire’ Wheatley takes a shot at what can be described as a ‘crowd pleaser’ and it is therefore his most accessible film. Whereas earlier work could be quite inscrutable or horrifying, the director does not ask too much of his audience. At the same time, it is not the most ambitious film Wheatley has made and certainly not his best. ‘Free Fire’, on the other hand, is so irresistibly fast that it is a lot of fun.
The cast is made up of a lot of familiar faces from both the British and American film industries; indie sensation Brie Larson, poster boy Armie Hammer and veteran Michael Smiley all put in a stellar performance. A highlight is the South African Sharlto Copley, who we know from ‘District 9’ (2009), who shines in his role as a hyperactive and cunning arms dealer. All in all, though, there’s too little to enjoy in ‘Free Fire’. Although the film is easy to watch, it lacks the signature of the British filmmaker who has so much more to offer. It is therefore hardly more than a sub-Tarantinoesque action film and actually a film that is out of place in Wheatley’s oeuvre.