Director Ben Wheatley returns with his simplest and most purely entertaining effort to date. It’s a model of genre efficiency, almost in the mould of John Carpenter but with completely different aesthetic. The set up follows a pair of IRA soldiers looking to set up an arms deal with a South African dingbat and some local goons in an abandoned warehouse in 70s Boston. As you can imagine, things take a turn south quickly. They bring the wrong guns, the wrong guys, and who brought the snipers? The next thing you know, the movie transforms into a bullet strewn free for all with a talented cast trading hilarious dialogue before turning into corpses.
The filmmaker ditches most of his high-minded influences (which dominated his last two movies A Field In England and High-Rise) in favour of going for the gut. Tension is palpable from frame one and blood is spilled liberally. It’s a masterclass of characterization, suspense, and violence without a frame wasted. The cast is fantastic, especially Cillian Murphy’s charming terrorist, Sharlto Copley’s idiot gun nut, Armie Hammer’s stoner gun-for-hire, and Brie Larson’s middle woman in the crossfire (not to mention Wheatley’s usual scene-stealer Michael Smiley). They trade poetically profane dialogue and insults with ease before getting dirty.
Sure, there’s not much in the way of subtext in Free Fire, but when the entertainment value is this high, it’s tough to complain. With a little luck and a marketing push, this could be the director’s most successful movie. It certainly seems to have been designed with American crossover appeal in mind, so if all goes well, Wheatley could make his next film with Hollywood’s money. I can’t imagine there are any rubber suit blockbusters in his future, but given the predictably unpredictable nature of his career so far, who knows?