Set in 1970s America in a single warehouse on the outskirts of Boston, Free Fire focuses on an arms deal that goes wrong between two Irishmen Chris and Frank (Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley) and an American gang led by the mildly overdramatic Vernon (Sharlto Copey) and Ord (Armie Hammer on excellent form as the gang’s representative who delights in winding up everyone else in the room). Rounding out the rest of the core cast is Justine (Brie Larson) the mediator and the thankfully level headed Martin (Babou Ceesay).
One of the things I enjoyed most about Free Fire was the fact that its genre films thats knows its a genre film. From the out the way setting, the general Resevoir Dogs feel generated by the single setting to the brilliantly choreographed walk that they all do in time to the music up the stairs like a 70s band.
Jump and Wheatley’s screenplay builds the tension from the off, from Frank’s immediate dislike of Ord – “I don’t like his jumper” – to the more important issue of incorrect weapons and finally to the trigger issue that starts the shootout. That issue however, was the only real problem I had with the film, the use and later dismissal of it felt uncomfortable – used a as something of a joke when it probably shouldn’t be.
Unlike most action films Free Fire focuses on the impact of the violence that the characters inflict on each other. Every successful hit has a reaction – yelps of pain, bullet nicked suits – and by the end of the film the characters left standing are barely doing that, using makeshift crutches to limp and crawl their way across the warehouse.
The cinematography of Laurie Rose also captures the dirt and grime of the setting so well that you are almost in need of a shower by the time you come out. Dust flies through the air as characters fall heavily to the ground, close ups capturing their faces increasingly coated in grime and sweat.
Alliances are made and broken in quick succession so that by the end of the film you’d be forgiven for forgetting which side everyone belongs to. Its also a wonderfully human film, although the violence and callousness might not be for everyone, its very much about people being hopeless at keeping it together, being calm, but also trying to arrange dates amoungst chaos.
It’s a film that is divisive – one woman at the end proclaimed how much she hated it – a Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump film that has the ability to pull a more mainstream audience due to big name stars but still revels in its independence.