If you’re not familiar with British writer / director Ben Wheatley then you could sum his work up as eccentric. It’s sometimes not the most accessible but you can usually guarantee it will contain plenty of humour, usually of the black sort.
Free Fire takes us back to 1978 when an Irish gang led by Chris, Cillian Murphy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises), is purchasing some guns from a rag-tag bunch of Americans led by the eccentric South African Vernon, Sharlto Copley (Hardcore Henry, Chappie). They meet in abandoned warehouse somewhere by some docks where Ord, Armie Hammer (The Lone Ranger, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) starts the wise-cracks and pads Murphy’s team down, checking for wires.
Satisfied they enter and things go downhill from there on in. To start, the guns are not M16’s as ordered whilst one of Copley’s gang Harry, Jack Reynor (Macbeth, Transformers: Age of Extinction), has previously beaten up one of Murphy’s team Stevo, Sam Riley (Control, Maleficent). When they find out why all hell breaks loose culminating in shots fired and so the mayhem begins.
Wheatley’s previous films have ranged from the bizarre, High-Rise, to the darkly-comic, Sightseers. Free Fire is easily his most accessible film whilst retaining his black humour but losing a large element of the weird. He apparently built the entire set in Minecraft before proceeding and had to rework one of the main characters after Luke Evans dropped out due to Beauty and the Beast and was replaced by Copley.
Personally, I think this is a good thing, Copley brings an element of eccentricity the film needed, he adds a large element of fun, being the butt of jokes whilst making his own, he’s also a bloody good actor, which helps. The rest of Copley’s gang is Babou Ceesay (Eye In The Sky, ’71) and Noah Taylor (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Double). Murphy’s gang also has Michael Smiley (The World’s End, Rogue One) and Enzo Cilenti (The Martian, High-Rise).
We also have Brie Larson thrown into the mix who appears to be on no-ones side and yet both sides at the same time. The problem with having nearly ten main characters is that none of them really get much screen time, there’s little depth and some barely do much at all. It’s actually Sam Riley, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley who come out of this as the three most memorable by some way. Jack Reynor, who sounds remarkably like Seth Rogen at times, also has a fair bit to add.
The directing is good, there’s nothing particularly innovative which is a slight shame given large parts of the film are people crawling along the floor, but it’s decent. The action sequences are close-up, handheld cr*p, I’m not even going to bother, you know my feelings on this by now. The writing, by Wheatley and long-term partner Amy Jump, is sparse with Copley and Hammer getting the most dialogue and the best. Though the exchanges between Hammer and Smiley are fun.
Free Fire is a lot of fun, in large parts down to Copley and Riley, but it also suffers from being predictable, it’s very obvious who intends to try and walk away from all this, and not particularly innovative, despite being in one location. Perhaps my expectations where off? I expected something a bit more Tarantino-esq in its execution, violent but with lots of back-and-forth dialogue, only, more British. That was attempted but, ultimately, miss-fired.