The place is Boston. The year is 1978. We’re in a deserted warehouse in a meeting between two gangs. The meeting goes pear-shaped and turns into a game of survival. Justine (Brie Larson) sets up a gun deal between two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy & Michael Smiley) and a gang headed by Vernon (Sharlto Copely) and Ord (Armie Hammer). When shots are fired during the handover, what was supposed to be an easy deal turns into a comical and humorous turn events, uncanny to our favourite actors in a round of paintball with every character only after one thing, saving their own skin.
In a desolate Bostonian warehouse, a ragtag of sub-amateur weapons buyers/sellers take shots at each other after a deal goes tits up. This is British film at its best. It’s Hot Fuzz meets Lock Stock meets Nice Guys. It’s a worthy cinema experience and it’s sadistically bold in every way, including its characters, their actions and everything they say in its script. It takes slapstick comedy to new heights, mashing up elements from the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Looney Tunes, entwined with the Sarah Kane-esque Theatre to Shock. Ben Wheatley has delivered an absolute corker, thanks to a great a cast, crew and an excellent screenplay.
This film includes a bout with claustrophobic endeavours, the repercussions of violence (a big fucking deal) and men behaving badly. These things pit IRA salesman Chris (Cillian Murphy) against this annoyingly amusing South African, Vernon (Copely), thanks to a some unfinished business between Stevo, played by Sam Riley (PPZ) and Harry, played by Jack Reynor (Sing Street). Caught in the middle are Justine (Larson), Ord (Hammer) and Frank (Smiley) with Martin (Babou Ceesay) taking a bullet to the head but somehow still alive for the duration of the film, with one of the best lines coming from him: “I’m not dead, I’m just regrouping.” The level of banter in this film is the stuff legends are made of.
I never thought watching people being shot to death would be so damn funny. Vernon kept going on about his suit and then he gets shot. He gets told “You’re gonna be okay, it’s mostly the suit” and that’s when my lungs guffawed. This film is a case study of the grotesque and carnivalesque, as we’re witness to bloody ankles, faces and knees yet the carnival comes in our characters’ makeup and hair which is just so 70s with the tight curls of Brie Larson (Room) and Armie Hammer (Man From U.N.C.L.E) dressed to kill with that swagger, not to forget to mention the aesthetic appeal of those jackets. Though, I think Brie Larson is probably one of the only talents in Hollywood who can pull off a costume like that. Damn!
Once the carnage begins, cinematographer Laurie Rose becomes an elusive spectre. The camera creeps like a snail, and that suspense typical of executive producer Scorsese sets in, regardless of the exploding gas tanks or the two unknown snipers who joined the game from out of nowhere. Most of the characters were given ample screen time and the ones who didn’t were either dead, temporarily dead or regrouping. With all the violence and mayhem onscreen, there’s a method to its madness creating an ordered chaos amidst the barrage of bullets and projectile of swear-word torpedoes.
The dialogue is sharp, witty and intelligent. Each character shines, whether that’s the South African or Austrian or Swiss Vernon, to the The Bird Justine or even the slick Ord with his beard oil. A personal quarrel between the two lowest ranking members tips our protagonists into anarchy, much akin to those men in Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs squabbling with each other like children over who gets to be called Mr Black. Their madness shaken in a hypermasculine cocktail makes for an entertaining turn of events, as mayhem swallows their humanity making this story a simple one, it’s do or die.
Free Fire is audacious, bold and intelligent. It’s black comedy at the height of its game. Quite frankly it’s an instant cult classic that will be talked about in twenty years by today’s generation of cinema-goers in the same way my parents’ generation talk about Trainspotting or how my grandparents’ generation talk about the Italian Job.