Sunday, July 16, 2017

Free Fire (2016)

It’s the late 70s. An arms deal between a group of IRA members (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley and others) and a South African arms dealer (Sharlto Copley, playing the part of the most horrifyingly annoying man alive) and his entourage, finagled by an American middle woman (Brie Larson) who really doesn’t have much fun with being a woman in late 70s macho land, goes very wrong indeed. Some, let’s call them “personal issues”, between some of the foot soldiers on both sides escalate into a drawn-out shoot-out and stand-off in a warehouse, and soon, very many characters are bleeding, shooting and cursing. Not always in this order, and quite a bit of dying is involved too..

Free Fire is the film that really decides it for me: Ben Wheatley (and his regular writing and editing partner Amy Jump) is a director that’ll stay with me for the next few decades, making one film that isn’t like the one he made before or the ones before that yet still retains a personal handwriting every year and keeping me happy with it, sometimes making a perfect movie like Kill List, sometimes an interesting effort, sometimes more, sometimes less.

For my tastes (and the Internet informs me not everyone shares my enthusiasm), Free Fire is nearly as good as Kill List, and is certainly the crowning achievement in the warehouse action comedy genre. Of course, if you’ve read that Free Fire is supposed to consist exclusively out of one long shoot-out, you might be disappointed by a film whose characters only start shooting at each other 25 minutes or so in, and which isn’t at all interested in the sort of non-stop, slow-motion gun fu you might expect on first hearing about it. Technically, there’s a one-hour gun battle here, but in practice, most of the characters are wounded more or less heavily early on, so instead of the expected extreme spectacle, this is actually a character piece that delights in having a fantastic cast (there are also Sam Riley, Armie Hammer, Enzo Cilenti, Babou Ceesay and other fine thespians involved) of actual actors playing around with their characters, bickering, cursing, making jokes, and bleeding.

There is still quite a bit of action going around here, though, it’s just that Wheatley makes his job purposefully difficult by staging action scenes between characters who are mostly only able to crawl, slither and sometime hop around for much of the film. That doesn’t just add a sense of the absurd (there’s always a bit of Beckett in a Wheatley film) to the film but also provides the director with the opportunity to come up with action set pieces that aren’t quite like the ones you’ll find in a John Wick movie, and which turn out pretty damn great to my eyes.

As does the temporal and local colour (warning to the overly sensitive: there’s a degree of racism and sexism involved but it is one of the characters and not of the film), the acting (obviously), the photography, the texture of the language and the structure of the editing. Given these standards, that the film we get isn’t quite the film most of us probably expect going in isn’t a bad thing to me. Free Fire, like all of Wheatley’s movies until now, is very much doing its own thing, not too interested in being the film an audience expects rather than the one it should and wants to be.

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