Considering his debut feature Down Terrance only came out in 2009 Ben Wheatley has had an extremely eclectic career from the terrific and terrifying Kill List to the trippy period piece A Field in England to star studded J.G Ballard adaptation High Rise as well as episodes of Dr. Who along the way.
Free Fire continues this constant fluctuation in subject, theme and genre taking the traditional 70’s action movie shootout and extending it to become an entire movie in itself blending real time and seemingly real consequence with a single location theatricality.
The plot is simple with two groups of nefarious characters all collected together for a gun deal which quickly deteriorates into a gun battle when tempers and trigger fingers flair over a previous night’s altercation.
With all ten pumped up paranoid patrons pumping hot lead into each other in the abandoned factory setting the deal has gone down in the audience enters into a game of kill or be killed where no one is guaranteed to live till the final fight.
As previously stated Free Fire feels like an experiment with Wheatley and his long time screen writing collaborator Amy Jump challenging themselves to stretch out what would be a single scene in many other films to the total running time and in some ways it works but sadly in others it does not.
With a combination of excellent English and International actors including Brie Larson, Sam Riley, Cillian Murphy, Arnie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Noah Taylor, Babou Ceesay and Wheatley favorite Michael Smiley it’s a pity that the characters are a collection of foul mouthed clichés.
The dialogue is a curate’s egg which at first flows fast and furiously along expletively evoking a ton of terrific old classics but soon the script starts to feel flaccid and false as if the actors are simply speaking for the sake of it rather than revealing themselves or pushing the story forward.
The lack of true character exploration or story line prevents real audience association or sympathy and there are no obvious heroes or villains leaving the viewer to simply select their favorite gun-toting guy or girl (mine was the sharp tonged big bearded Ord played by Arnie Hammer) and see if they survive.
In many dumb fun and perfectly watchable action films characterization is second if not fourth to everything else especially spectacle filled set pieces, stunts and furious fighting but Free Fire has very few of these elements to fall back on attempting to up the realism of the action with bad targeting, real injuries, mass confusion, bargaining and begging.
This is interesting and engaging at first but after 30 minutes or so the cracks start to appear and as the characters and story are so lacking you start to crave something more as well as noticing the unlimited bullets everyone seems to have which is far from believable.
To me the issue is Wheatley and Jump won’t go all the way one way or the other making a thrill ride homage ala Tarantino at his best or a cerebral intellectual action epic like Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog or Jean-Pierre Melville’s La Samurai or Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy so what’s left is a noteworthy idea badly and slightly boringly executed.
Promising so much with a great combination of creative team and talent alongside a stylish look and stimulating set up if Free Fire had been a play it would have been amazing but as a piece of cinema I am sorry to say it simply misfires.