A stand-off between mobsters following a dodgy deal invariably ends in guns being drawn and few left standing. It also usually lasts a matter of minutes. But not in Ben Wheatley’s new film, Free Fire.
The British writer-director whose offbeat resume includes occult thriller Kill List, serial killer comedy Sightseers and last year’s bonkers J.G. Ballard adaptation High-Rise, sustains the firefight for a majority of the movie’s running time. And in true Wheatley style, the result is a wonderfully absurd siege movie that ricochets with snappy dialogue, misfit characters, and masterful sound design.
An arms deal between a pair of Irish business partners (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) and an “international asshole” (Sharlto Copley) in a seedy Boston warehouse goes totally Pete Tong when the wrong kind of weapons are offered and a sexual indiscretion involving a cousin the night before leads to the first shot being fired. Then it’s duck and cover for all and sundry in a prolonged shootout that would be all over quickly if everyone wasn’t such a lousy shot.
Wheatley has assembled a quality cast for target practice, who all get their moments amidst the mayhem. Sam Riley’s edgy junkie and Armie Hammer’s dapper arms dealer are standouts, as is Copley, whose South African accent adds zing to his one-liners in between chewing the scenery. Brie Larson is also good as the American broker and woman in a madman’s world.
Setting the action during the 1970s lets Wheatley pay homage to the crime films of the period – Assault on Precinct 13 and Mean Streets (indeed, Martin Scorsese is credited as an executive producer) – and play with bad fashion and music selection. This is probably the only film where you’ll see a head crushed to the tones of John Denver, drifting incongruously from an 8-track cartridge.
Free Fire might be light on plot – the shootout is the plot – but it hits the bullseye as a hugely entertaining, technically savvy and blackly comic take on the crime genre.
In cinemas: April 27, 2017
Starring: Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer
Directed by: Ben Wheatley