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Free Fire (2017)

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In a recent his recent YouTube video, Mark Kermode focused on the unusual pairing of writing and editing partnership of Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump. Unusual not for the process or the material they focus on (although that has so varied!), but in how they view the promotion of their films. Wheatley is very much in the public eye, while Jump actively avoids the limelight (I’ll admit that I had only heard of the former before watching Kermode’s video). Wheatley is very active on social media, doing interview and actively promoting the finished film, while Amy Jump feels that this is unnecessary and that the finished product should speak for itself. Despite their contrasting approach to handling a finished film, there’s no denying that they would work well together in creating it in the first place. The two have worked on multiple projects now – Kill List knocked the wind out of me and is one of my favourite horrors, although I found High Rise hard work and left me in need of a shower – and the most recent is action-comedy, Free Fire. As soon as I first saw it’s trailer I knew this would be my sort of dark humour, and although I was in Berlin when my cinema put on a preview screening I was really chuffed to catch it this weekend.
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Free Fire is set in 70s Boston warehouse where a gun deal goes a bit pear shaped and quickly escalates in to a 60 minute shoot-out. Having seen lots of modern action films, Wheatley’s aim was to make one on a smaller, and more relatable scale. The danger is random, the character’s pain is real, and it’s all handled with dry, witty dialogue that makes every twist and turn interesting and original. As shoot outs go, this couldn’t be further away from the tension of something like Inglourious Basterds (2009) or The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). It’s complete anarchy, but Wheatley manages to orchestrate the whole thing well enough that you always know exactly where everyone is, and what state they’re in. As characters get more and more desperate, Wheatley and Jump also do just as good a job juggling the ever changing allegiances and motivations (“Who’s shooting at us now?!”). Amidst the utter chaos, there’s a lot of control keeping everything organised for the audience and it’s pretty impressive. Characters constantly throw wise cracks and insults as they take shelter, and when you couple that with utter incompetency and comedic violence and you’re left with a really fun 90 minutes that never let up once. I was laughing out loud a lot during Free Fire, I’m chuckling to myself now thinking about it, and I cannot wait to watch this again. The characters are laughably bad at hitting their targets as they shoot at each other (hilariously, I’ve heard Wheatley even compare them to Storm Troopers), but it makes for hilarious injuries and some incredible sounds. Amidst the screaming and odd John Denver song, Wheatley was keen for it to sound like real gunfire, so the volume is cranked up as shots ping, bang and smash the scenery they crash in to around the warehouse. It makes for a really immersive experience, as you’re scrabbling round in the rubble with them.
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Free Fire’s cast are all on top form too. Brie Larson, Sharlto Chopley, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor et al all seem to raise each other’s game, and look to make use of the brilliant dialogue as best they can - either could legitimately warrant their own spin off or origins story. I’ve also never really ‘got’ Sam Riley in the past, and Armie Hammer seems like a bit of a nearly-leading-man, but both were brilliant here. Cillian Murphy is always brilliant, but his IRA double act with Wheatley stalwart, Michael Smiley worked really well. Hammer and Brie Larson at the intermediaries trying to add a level of class to the deal and maintain the peace (at first). The jokes are none stop (Hammer’s beard oil line made me laugh just as hard as it did in the trailer), but Chopley’s Vernon ends up with the bulk of them, and the butt of much of the rest. I think the 70s fashion and his out of place accent help, but I was laughing at everything his said, as well as the insults thrown his way. If anyone managed to stand out from the film’s vast crowd of funny performances then it was him – I bet he’s relieved Luke Evans (originally cast in this role) had to drop out.
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Free Fire is the antithesis to the modern action movie. Where John Wick would shoot hordes of henchmen right between the eyes every time, Free Fire’s amateurs do well to clip someone’s leg, bemoan their ruined suits, and scrabble round in dirt, run out of ammo, turn on their friends, and all while shouting a hilarious insults at each other. It’s a refreshing film, and just long enough so as not to never get tired (how often to you get a film bang on 90 minutes long anymore?!). Compared to some of his previous work, this may be Wheatley’s most accessible movie, and I think it’s one that will only get better with repeat viewings. I cannot wait to do just that.

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