Acclaimed English director Ben Wheatley has revealed himself to be one of the nation’s most interesting practitioners. He seems to feel a palpable discontentment pertaining to any sort of audience expectation, instead choosing to violently buck against good sense and restraint in favour of delving into some twisted, horrible, and truly hilarious ideas. I should get it out of the way: Free Fire isn’t his best film (the terrifying slow-burn of his macabre 2011 horror Kill List is too hot to stop), but it’s once again an example of Wheatley’s delirious charm in executing the totally unexpected.
Set in only one location – an abandoned warehouse littered with smashed stone, broken glass and rusty syringes – Free Fire is ostensibly one giant set-piece: when criminals belonging to various factions meet with each other to make a deal over machine guns, things naturally go tits up, and a shootout ensues. But this isn’t an inciting incident, nor is it a place the film builds on from there. It IS the entire movie. The gunshots are deafening, the wounds debilitating, and the cracking one-liners sizzle like so much flying lead.
Strong comedic performances abound here – the gleefully unhinged ensemble cast is easily the highlight of the film – but those of Armie Hammer, Sam Riley and a ridiculous Sharlto Copley truly stand out. The Social Network alum Hammer is a bearded sociopath who is never cooler than when he’s smoking a joint and trying his best to survive this shit-heap of a deal. Riley, who drew acclaim a decade ago for his portrayal of tragic punk figure Ian Curtis, here plays a twitchy coke-addict whose funny but violent impulses greatly affect everyone around him. And, if I’m honest, not much can really be said about the “person” Copley masterfully depicts here without ruining one of the film’s primary joys: if there’s been a more obliviously deluded yet hubristically arrogant arsehole better portrayed by anyone else outside of Copley here*, then please let me know.
Despite at times feeling like a one-note gimmick pushed a little too far, Wheatley’s latest is nevertheless a very funny, very chaotic exercise in genre-subversion. As with the rest of his oeuvre, it goes to some very weird places indeed, and that’s something I can get onboard with.
For more information visit the RevFest website.