Review: Free Fire

If a merciless shoot out with 2D characters is your thing, perhaps play a video game instead. Tiresome.

Director Ben Wheatley, alongside writing partner Amy Jump, has produced some of Britain’s most enticingly dark cinema in recent years, from the brutality of Kill List to the wicked laughs of Sightseers and the trippy history of A Field In England.

If High-Rise was a stylishly wild but fairly surface take on JG Ballard’s nightmarish dystopian novel of class warfare and social collapse, then the shift to America for their latest offering, Free Fire, has sadly overseen a marked shift downwards in smarts.

Set almost entirely in a Massachusetts in the sartorially challenged ‘70s, it stars Cillian Murphy and regular Wheatley collaborator Michael Smiley as IRA terrorists Chris and Frank, in the business of buying guns. Sam Riley and Enzo Cilenti join them as the somewhat gormless ‘muscle’ of Americans Stevo and Bernie.

Brie Larson’s middle woman Justine connects them to Sharlto Copley’s South African arms dealer. He is, in turn, accompanied by arrogant aesthete Ord (Armie Hammer), money man Martin (Babou Ceesay) and long-haired Harry (Jack Reynor).

After a not-all-that-engaging set-up, Free Fire rushes almost immediately into a sustained two-hour bullet bonanza shoot out that, while expertly staged, never truly inspires any tension, having failed to do more than the vaguest establishing character work.

Much of the clearly intended Tarantino-style ‘humour’, devoid of personality, rests on Copley’s accent. Hammer just about rises above by default of brute force charisma, but the normally razor sharp skills of Wheatley and Jump give precious little for the rest to work on, with neither Larson nor Murphy, both excellent actors, distinguishing themselves here.

Instead, mired in ugly violence with so very little purpose and, despite the gore, seeming superhuman survival capabilities, it feels like a marathon of Tarantino’s worst excesses cut loose from his magnetic best, a poor facsimile that, despite its never-ending hail of ordnance, is ultimately rather tedious, with nary a care who, if anyone, walks away. Hopefully Wheatley will not follow this path again.

Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords