FILM Free Fire (15)
In an era of bloated franchise blockbusters, writer-director Ben Wheatley’s new film Free Fire feels like a sly joke. Unlike his last film, the 1970s-set JG Ballard adaptation High Rise, this isn’t trying to say anything profound or interesting about society, politics or the human condition. It has almost no socially redeeming features at all, beyond perhaps offering a blackly comic portrait of nihilism run amok.
Featuring a single warehouse location and a premise built around 12 characters embroiled in a gun battle, it is, literally, a wall-towall action movie, one in which a firefight occupies roughly 70 minutes of its brief 90-minute runtime. In this respect it feels like a genre experiment, an exercise in pure cinema designed to solve the problem of how to tell a compelling story in almost real time with this many hateful characters all pointlessly trying to kill each other.
Set in Boston in the late 1970s and built around an arms deal going rapidly wrong, Free Fire certainly isn’t interested in pandering to its audience by offering characters to root for. Wheatley’s cast might include the likes of Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley and recent Oscar-winner Brie Larson, but he’s got them playing
IRA members, South African gunrunners, self-interested interims and various catastrophically idiotic henchmen. No one really has an arc; it’s not that type of movie. Nor are there flashbacks or big declamatory speeches to signal where our sympathies should lie.
Keeping his camera low,
Wheatley creates a powder-keg-like environment, incrementally moving through the film’s contained space in a way that doesn’t just build up drama and tension, but also layers in