By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review comes courtesy of an early access viewing of Ben Wheatley’s action-thriller Free Fire that previewed at Phoenix Leicester this week.
This is Wheatley’s sixth feature film and stars a whole host of talent including Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley and Cillian Murphy.
Just over a year ago, we had the period sci-fi drama (ish) High Rise, now the gun-slinging Free Fire…
Ben Wheatley (director, co-writer) reunites with his ever-present scribbler-friend Amy Jump as they work together for the fifth time. Their new flick, Free Fire, centres on ten key characters who meet up in an abandoned warehouse in 1978 Boston. The following meet up is supposed to be a stress-free trade of cash for arms… but there’s little chance of no action where Ben and Amy are concerned.
Ben continues his quality streak with another genre-bending film that has a Tarantino undertone coupled with a comic book raucous edge. The term auteur in one instance is quite the opposite of Wheatley’s work, but in a strange way, he has also kind of found his own genre. Whenever a new Wheatley picture comes along, you know two things will be guaranteed… the film will be nothing like his last and there will also more than likely be a murder of some kind. Ben has carved out a pessimistic theme with a comic twist in all his films even though the genres may vary, and that’s where the ‘auteur’ term can be loosely placed here.
From the outset, you know this straight up arms deal is never going to go to plan. We meet ten characters who all have clashing personalities, which confirms that shit will go down. The three most interesting characters are Stevo (Sam Riley), Ord (Armie Hammer) and Vernon (Sharlto Copley). The trio offer the most danger to the deal, and therefore provide the most entertainment. Stevo is a loud-mouth junkie who has annoyed the sellers prior to the meet so tensions rise immediately. Ord acts as the middle man between the clients and can never be fully trusted. Finally, Vernon is a loose cannon who cares more about his suit then his men.
All ten characters bring something different to the table whether it is to stand out in the pack, or to subtly get by in the background. This all adds to the mystery to what real intentions each person has. As we know, Ben and Amy’s films are never straight-forward. The characters are brought to life by a masterful script with absolute zingers of one-liners. There’s literally too many to even choose a favourite. I think Sharlto has the best bunch though.
There’s many positives to Free Fire from the deafening sound of gun shots blaring over the speakers to the creative choice of camera angles. It’s reminiscent of a 50s-western movie flipping between low-angled shots to long-range establishing shots of the warehouse (filmed in sunny Brighton rather than on location in Boston). Another note-worthy attribute to Free Fire is the soundtrack. There’s not a lot of songs throughout, but when they are playing, they are playing! The groovy and funky sounds of the 70s ring out in pivotal scenes. The opening sequence alone is empowered by the guitar-strumming funk overtop.
In a nutshell, Wheatley (and Jump) do it again. The exquisite duo deliver another hell-raising and thumping thriller that needs to be caught in a theatre. The Phoenix cinema’s surround sound was a joy when the action pieces commenced. This rowdy, bullet-ridden flick will leave you entertained for the swift and colourful 90 minutes it has you pinned in your seat for.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4.5 Stars
Free Fire screened at the Phoenix Leicester as an early preview. The film is on general release from 31st March 2017 – certificate 15