Director Ben Wheatley on the killer shots of Free Fire
Ben Wheatley talks us through every major shot in his ensemble gunfight movie. When we say shot, we mean the loud things that go bang.
THERE ARE 312 shots fired in anger (and panic, and fear, and rank incompetence) in Free
Fire, Ben Wheatley’s riotous tale of an arms deal-turned-shoot-out. But not all those bullets have the same impact. Wheatley talks us through the bullets that matter the most. SHOT #1 Harry shoots Stevo things kick off when harry (Jack reynor) shoots stevo (sam riley) in the upper chest as payback for stevo’s unprovoked attack on harry’s cousin in a Boston bar. “It was always going to be those two characters because they’re the least sensible. The hard bit of that was making sure that Jack Reynor’s performance was internal enough that you could buy that he would go that crazy. Originally, the insult Stevo lobs at him wasn’t enough. I’d had a few goes, then Ames [Amy Jump, Wheatley’s writing and editing partner, and wife] rewrote it and she came up with, ‘About last night, I’m really sorry. ’Cause I came so hard in your cousin’s mouth that I think I knocked some of her rotten fucking teeth out! You’re gonna have to pick ’em out of her fucking stools at the hospital!’ Everyone read it and went, ‘Fuck! That’s pretty bad!’” the Outcome: Upper right chest; wound
painful. But the idea was that it’s quite hard to shoot things that are moving at speed. Stevo fires and misses a few times before hitting anything. It’s adrenaline and fear and pressure. It’s very difficult to do unless you’re a trained commando.” the Outcome: left shoulder; wound Stevo shoots Vern in the opening exchange of fire, wheatley is at pains to ensure his main characters were all wounded in some way — usually the legs or arms, as sharlto copley’s gunrunner finds out. “You can’t have everyone shot in the head because you’ll run out of cast. You can’t have them all shot in the guts because it’s really
Chris shoots Martin the first manstopper of the movie, and inadvertent coldplay riff, sees cillian murphy’s republican take out martin (Babou ceesay), one of the guys who brokered the deal. martin’s not quite dead, although that’s not revealed until later. “For the plot, it was important to take Martin out. And we wanted to make it much more serious — nobody can get out of it now. There’s no going back. That’s the end of their chances.
And Martin has a relationship with Justine [Brie Larson], and Chris has a nascent relationship with her. So Chris shoots the boyfriend straight at the start, and it pans out badly for him…”
THE OUTCOME: HEAD; APPARENTLY FATAL
Howie shoots Gordon The sudden arrival of two snipers on the scene, planned as part of a double-cross by Martin and Justine, complicates matters. Not least when Howie (Patrick Bergin) sends a bullet into the leg of Gordon (Noah Taylor). “Okay, this is probably one of the first totally unrealistic wounds in the film. That would be totally unsurvivable — it would have shattered his leg and that would have been the end of him…”
THE OUTCOME: RIGHT LEG; APPARENTLY FATAL
Harry shoots Justine Chalk up another one for Jack Reynor’s agent of chaos, who accidentally shoots Justine in the right leg, despite ostensibly being on the same side. “It’s typical of the uselessness of Harry. Justine is fucked off that she was defending his cousin earlier. But this gets quite an interesting reaction in the audience, usually. ‘You’re not allowed to shoot women!’ But it’s not a fatal wound, and it’s an accident.”
THE OUTCOME: RIGHT LEG; WOUND
Vern shoots Bernie Farewell, then, to Enzo Cilenti, whose nervous Nellie tries to make a very slow break for it, walking to freedom until Vern shoots him in the back. The rotter. “Vern has been so singularly useless at hitting anything to this point. The irony is that he murders the unarmed guy — the only character who doesn’t have a gun, or fire a gun. Bernie’s attempt to escape was based around a thing I did as a kid. I’d thrown some apples under a car, the car screeched to a halt and I hid in the woods. After a while I thought, ‘If I just walk away really slowly I’ll be fine.’ At which point I got caught.”
THE OUTCOME: BACK; FATAL
Justine shoots Howie A mystery, as Bergin’s wounded Howie is put out of his misery just as he’s about to reveal who hired him. Spoiler: it’s Justine. “It’s a very sneaky shot — she slid around the corner. The only language of the film that tells you she did it is a big close-up of her just before. It’s about the biggest close-up of the movie. Justine is the only character in the film who shoots straight and she also kills the most people. It’s like a remake of Alien, where she’s Ripley and the alien at the same time.”
THE OUTCOME: HEAD; FATAL
Harry shoots Ord Another accidental discharge from the hairtrigger of Harry, as he shoots Armie Hammer’s super-cool, highly trained Ord (again, who’s on his side) in the leg. “There’s another version of this film, made in the ’70s maybe, where Ord is the star of it. It’s almost like it should be his film, but the other characters drag him down. And this is like a moment from Die Hard, but as Bruce Willis goes to fight Alan Rickman, Rickman blows his toes off. Also, we realised Ord hadn’t been shot in the leg and he was mobile. In the land of the blind, the twolegged man is king, so we had to disable him somehow.”
THE OUTCOME: RIGHT LEG; WOUND
Vern shoots Frank As the bullets finally start to run out, the body count begins to rise. michael smiley’s likeable, loquacious Frank is taken out by Vern after a desperate scramble to reach the warehouse’s still-working phone… “The idea for the film was a series of really small adventures, but they mean masses to these people because their lives have been boiled down to hardly anything. Frank trying to reach the phone would be a tower block being hit by a meteorite in a Michael Bay film. You think he’s got there and then he hasn’t. It’s really unfair. It’s just fucking totally unfair.” the OUTCOME: Heart; FATAL
Chris shoots Vern Vern’s boat race is run when, to add insult to the massive burns he received during his fight with Frank, Chris shoots him. Not just in the face, but through the nose. “I’d read that to definitely stop someone with one bullet, you go through the nose. It goes through the brain and cuts out the middle of the brain, which runs the nervous system. It’s really horrible. It’s such an insult to shoot someone right in the middle of their face, but Chris is upset about Frank.” the OUTCOME: Head; FATAL
Stevo shoots Harry As the conflict began with stevo and Harry, so it comes to an end, with the duo killing each other in suitably Ott fashion: Harry crushing stevo’s head by driving a van over his face, while stevo, with his last act, fires a bullet into Harry’s arse. Yep… “I don’t know why being shot in the buttock is lethal. But it’s a high-calibre pistol so it could do a lot of damage. Stevo goes out as he went in, as an idiot. He’s caused so much trouble with his mouth and he just gets smeared flat. Originally, Stevo just got shot in the original script. But Jack said, ‘I’ll do it if I get to kill Stevo in a really horrible way.’ I said, ‘What if he gets his head run over?’ He said, ‘I’ll do it.’ I had to perform the test of the rigged van. Having a real van rolling over you, that for some reason doesn’t pop your head, was really scary.” the OUTCOME: buttock; FATAL
Justine shoots Ord With everyone seemingly dead, and the warehouse in an even greater state of disrepair, Ord and Chris forge a cautious truce and prepare to leave. Until Ord is rudely interrupted mid-john denver anecdote. by a bullet to his eye, courtesy of the lurking Justine... “No-one’s very happy about that, because they really like Armie. He’s done nothing wrong in the whole film, he’s got no bad agenda, and then he gets shot in the eye. And he ain’t coming back with an eyepatch. There never was a John Denver story — that was something we made up on the day. But if there had been one, it would have been quite filthy.” the OUTCOME: Headshot; FATAL
Justine shoots Chris immediately after shooting Ord, Justine also plugs Chris in the chest, this time from a distance with a sniper rifle. but despite this the irishman actually has a grudging respect for her as she prepares to abscond with the big bag of cash… “There’s a mean version of this where Chris shoots her in the back as she leaves. That would be horrible. But Chris is a bit of a romantic. It’s wrong time, wrong place. They could maybe have been alright if they’d met in a bar. But they didn’t, and that’s how it ends. He might make it out alive — I don’t know what the percentage survival chances are if you get shot just under the heart. I suspect not good, but there’s a chance for a sequel…” the OUTCOME: Chest; Almost Certainly FATAL
FREE FIRE is OUT NOW ON dvd, blu-ray AND DOWNLOAD
What we said:
“Wheatley continues an unbroken run of quality, helped by a great cast and a startlingly effective premise. This is seriously cool, stuffed with great dialogue and riddled with bullets.”
Commentary from Wheatley, and a making of featurette.
Clockwise from left: Aim, fire!: Gordon (Noah Taylor), Harry (Jack Reynor), Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer); Frank (Michael Smiley) with Chris (Cillian Murphy); Justine (Brie Larson).
Ben Wheatley on set with Enzo Cilenti (Bernie), Michael Smiley (Frank) and Sam Riley (Stevo).