‘Free Fire’ continues director Ben Wheatley’s cinematic love affair with all things 1970 in a darkly comic tale of a gun-deal gone wrong in a Boston warehouse. Fresh off the heels of ‘High Rise’s’ ode to the British class system, ‘Free Fire’ is a more paired-down tale in which a similarly eclectic cast deliver peak performances.
For Wheatley’s latest he returns to his talismanic Michael Smiley (from ‘A Field In England’) who is in grimly dour form with the ever-believable Cillian Murphy as two IRA gunmen looking to secure illegal guns. In the role of a shifty South African arms dealer, Sharlto Copley brings his snide, jocular bonhomie to bear and from his first widening grin you know things are going to go pleasingly south. In fact the period detail and accents are so spot-on that you’d be forgiven for thinking that the first half is a straight drama. The distinction is later made by ‘Free Fire’s’ crackling dialogue which continually pierces the narrative and puts the movie’s tongue firmly in its cheek.
... ‘Free Fire’ is as compact as the rifles on offer and it skewers each of its cast...
In neither a lampoon nor a homage to crime capers or deals gone wrong (i.e. ’Reservoir Dogs and ‘Safe’) ‘Free Fire’ dispenses with any nods to cinematic nostalgia with a deadpan camera which follows every ricochet to its mark. Whilst the bullet count might stretch credibility, as may the hardiness of the victim’s time to die, ‘Free Fire’ isn’t going for cinéma vérité. It prefers to steer its own course with characters that are as complex as they are engaging. No lingering slo-mo’s (Guy Ritchie) or heaving film homages (Tarantino) are to be found here. ‘Free Fire’ is as compact as the rifles on offer and it skewers each of its cast on a ‘will-they-make-it-out-alive premise.
To continue the Tarantino comparison, ‘Free Fire’ could also be described as a trimmed-down version of “The Hateful Eight’ but without the verbal badinage and a mercifully shorter running time – but that’s where the similarities end. ‘Free-Fire’ is not interested in taking any cinematic prisoners nor making any attempts at subtext. It’s a simple but skilful shoot-out movie which has much more in common with Takesi Kitano’s Yakuza epics than anything else from the United States.
Since having dispensed with any cinematic riffs or clichés, ‘Fire Fire’ doesn’t feel overly cinematic. That said, once you’re penned down in its crossfire and you spend more time with its richly-drawn characters, you’ll enjoy their explosive exchanges as the screen showers you in plaster and darkly comic observation.