Film review: Free Fire – Firing all cylinders

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Writer-director Ben Wheatley returns with perhaps the most brilliant and bonkers film of the entire year.

‘Free Fire’ hurtles along at a breakneck speed, showcasing a wonderfully callous disregard for its characters and but a wisp of a plot. Our ‘heroes’ may spend the majority of their time putting bullets into the scenery and not each other, but it doesn’t miss a beat.

Featuring a star-studded cast of characters who perhaps aren’t the best people to be left handling automatic weapons, ‘Free Fire’ tells the explosive tale of an arms deal in an abandoned warehouse in 1970s Boston going South and going South fast. With two of the gangsters involved seemingly having some unfinished business, an already tense and dangerously volatile situation is pushed over the edge into an uneasy shootout, with no one really sure who is on which side.

With a sharply-written and punchy script that harkens back to the days of early Tarantino, Wheatley rides the fine line between action and comedy with immaculate prowess. After no time at all, the film is propelled along by its own inertia and little else as characters bounce off each other with genuinely funny banter and things go from bad to worse to the really absurd.

‘Free Fire’ is a terrific exercise in stripping down as much as possible from the narrative and creating pure and unadulterated, glorious and gory action cinema. Whilst it may function first and foremost as a groovy, stylish comedy, there are moments of great fight choreography amidst all the profanity and one-liners, with the effortlessly cool and debonair Ord (a bearded Armie Hammer) alternating between suavely lighting cigarettes and jibing his cohorts and blowing great big holes in body parts and concrete alike with a great big rifle.

But, if any of the cast deserves praise and recognition, it’s Sharlto Copley. He steals the show as the South African arms dealer, Vernon, who boasts not only the flashiest suit but serves as the source of most of the film’s comedy – “watch and Verne!” Copley is unrivalled in his career-best performance as the not-so-suave ‘misdiagnosed child genius’ whose ego is perhaps the biggest thing about him.

It feels almost unfair to point at one of the cast-members and proclaim them as the best because the entire line-up is simply sublime. Cillian Murphy as the slick Irish gangster, Chris, has a great screen presence and all eyes are on Academy Award-winner Brie Larson as she firmly holds her own as the tough and uncompromising femme fatale, Justine.

Even from a technical standpoint, ‘Free Fire’ excels. It’s stripped down yet so tightly edited you’ll feel almost out of breath by the time the credits roll. The camerawork may at times be a little too frenetic and nauseating, but this comes with the territory.

Few films can pull off the fun and excitement ‘Free Fire’ so easily does. It may not be a particularly deep or meaningful film, but it’s undeniably electrifying in its simplicity. It does what it wants in such a surefooted manner that it feels like nothing less than a much-needed breath of fresh air.

An eminent cult-classic if I ever saw one.

Free Fire rating: 9/10