“Fuck the small talk. Let’s buy some guns, eh?” – Chris, Free Fire (2016)
What does Free Fire have in common with Reservoir Dogs (1992) and The Hateful Eight (2015)? Unfortunately the common connection between the three is not that Quentin Tarantino directed them all. No, the connection is that they are fantastic films that rely more on story and acting than location. It’s an interesting practice, making a film all in one room, and to be honest any film that has actually done it has been really enjoyable. Free Fire is no exception to this rule.
Before I begin this review properly, I should indicate that this is my first experience with a Ben Wheatley directed project. Really I’ll be basing this film as an indicator as to how much I enjoy his work. After finishing Free Fire, I can safely say I will indeed be returning to watch more of his films. There are a number of different aspects as to why Ben Wheatley can make a great film though, and this can definitely be put down to his direction. The cinematography and direction throughout go hand in hand and they do create a very engaging and intriguing film. Considering this film is all about a gun deal gone wrong, you can guess there’s going to be a good deal of action throughout.
Gun fights in films can, over time, seem very generic. With the direction of Ben Wheatley and a talented cast, you can be sure that the action will in fact be fantastic. The entire film in itself is just one, long gunfight. That’s basically the whole plot of the film,
It was ironically refreshing to see that the opening credits were literally just that, opening credits. They didn’t do anything special or cater to anything unique, no jokes or plot points. Literally just establishing shots with some text showing who exactly was in this film. The only problem with this empty opening credits introduction is that, for the most part of the first act, this empty feeling continued. There just didn’t actually seem to be anything happening for this first act and to be quite honest they could have cut this section out of the film completely. This narrative improved rather quickly as the film cruised on, it was just the first act was a little odd. Obviously this can be put down to the film introducing a large cast of characters rather quickly, but regardless of that, the narrative on the whole was pretty good.
Luckily the film is heavily supported by a stand out cast, including Michael Smiley, who honestly steals the show away from Cillian Murphy with his performance as Frank. As a character, Frank is not something I was expecting as a character, he was just sort of cool. Every film, now that I think about it, has an old and cool character in it somewhere. For this film, Frank fits that role perfectly well. The cliche characters don’t stop there however, some characters are written specifically to fill some form of cliche or stereotype. Ord (Armie Hammer) seems to be the comedy character of the piece, however he does get some great development later on in the film.
It’s only now that I realise one of the main leads of this film is Sharlto Copley. The one other film I have seen him in is The A-Team (2010) and to be quite honest that was a pretty good film. I’m getting off topic though, because to be honest his performance in this film is somewhere between gratingly obnoxious and superbly beautiful. It’s an odd mix to feature in a film, but there’s a perfect mix of brilliant moments and genuinely terrible, cringe worthy stuff. Both of these moments add to the charm of the film as a whole. Honestly in regard to the cast everyone seems perfect for the role they are catered to. The aforementioned Frank and Ord are great additions to the cast, and Vernon is just as great.
I do hope the accents weren’t genuine acting, because some of them (Vernon) were genuinely terrible. Once you get past those accents though, you’ll be in for a treat with some genuinely fun dialogue. There’s a scene where two characters begin to unload weapons off of a truck and try to make awkward conversation. It adds such a light and colourful tone to the film as a whole, and without that it would be far darker. Counter this with the sudden and almost random bursts of tension throughout the build up to the gun fight, and you get a genuinely fantastic narrative. As I mentioned earlier, Michael Smiley was stealing the show, especially in these early scenes.
Chemistry in this sort of film is integral. Films like Reservoir Dogs are built on the tense relations between the main cast, not the actual heist itself. So with Free Fire the cast needs to work extremely hard to both cause tension yet at the same time have engaging and interesting conversations. Somehow, and I genuinely don’t understand how, the film pulls this off perfectly. There are parts where everyone stops firing, and they just chat for a bit.
Dialogue wise, as I said, the film relies completely on it. There are some knock out lines within this film. Stuff like “Aim with two hands, Vern.” and “Stop fucking shooting man!” were some genuinely hilarious lines. It’s not as if these lines take away from the setting of the film either, the set and costume design is more than enough to compliment the tone of the film extremely well.
Music is of course one of the most integral parts to any film, it sets the tone of a scene extremely well. It should come as no surprise that this film uses music perfectly well throughout. The initial kick start of the free firing (pun intended) has a great musical accompaniment to it, along with some phenomenal direction.
If you didn’t think I was enjoying Free Fire then you are mistaken. It’s possibly one of the best and most enjoyable film experiences I had in 2017. Ben Wheatley’s most recent directed film is an absolute blast. Honestly it’s some of the most fun I have had in a long while. This review didn’t even touch on the stellar performances of both Cillian Murphy and Brie Larson. For me personally, Michael Smiley and Armie Hammer stole the show throughout in some of the best ways possible.
The direction is superb, the cast a genuine treat, and above all it’s a great piece of cinema. A strong soundtrack only compliments how great this film is. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn close. Get past the exceptionally slow start to the movie and you’ll hopefully enjoy it as much as I did.