Release: 7th August 2017
Format: BR / DVD / DGTL
Set in Boston in 1978, a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two gangs turns into a shootout and a game of survival.
Ben Wheatley has been gearing up to make an all out action flick for a while. Every one of his films since Down Terrace has had a murky underlying infatuation with violence and its purpose in establishing order through chaos, but not a one of them has been so outrageously devoid of eccentricity enough to fully embrace the motif of, say, a gun fight or, to use the term loosely, a car chase. Free Fire is possibly the most commercially accessible version of a Ben Wheatley film we are ever going to see; and it is a riot.
Free Fire owes a sufficient debt to the likes of Reservoir Dogs and has Wheatley’s trademark penchant for the trapping of 70’s cinema. But in spite of its familiar set up and execution, this still feels like a very British view of an American narrative. Most directors would default to explore the Spaghetti Western themes of a showdown, littering Free Fire with harmonicas, standoffs and a Butch Cassidy bid for survival. What Wheatley does, however, is dive headlong in to comedy with the absurd. As with many of his projects, most notably Sightseers, this is black comedy; with Sharlto Copley’s audacious dress sense, a gathering of righteous sideburns, beards and moustaches, and an immaculately placed bit of John Denver. All supplemented with some severe pain. The film’s aggression is ever present, from its turdy whorish mouth, to an increasing sense of violent creativity, but Amy Jump’s script never veers too far from a snappy bit of physical or verbal mirth. In fact, it would not be a huge departure for a film such as this to function as a feature length episode of Reece Shearsmith (a Wheatley regular) and Steve Pemberton’s raucous anthology series Inside No. 9.
Free Fire is not all hits (as it were). In general many of the characters are defined by accent and dress rather than personality, and the last 20 minutes feel less breezy than they should. The film’s final moments; if they were supposed to be a shock, really are not, and feel like a presumed necessary conclusion when a more authentic or original one could have been found. There is also the problem of Free Fire being a 3rd act film. In the spirit of works such as Die Hard, Free Fire has minimal build up. But unlike Die Hard, Free Fire exists entirely in one room; meaning that Wheatley has to maintain suspense and pace with a sparse toolkit. For the most part he succeeds, but one could argue the film is maybe 10 minutes longer than it needs to be.
Film Grade: B
A nifty like Making Of that covers all you might hope for. A half decent Director’s Commentary and some Interviews. Hardly comprehensive in terms of visual aids, but heavy on dialogue driven ponderings. Althoguh, eagle eyed viewers will appreciate the shoot out ‘map’ shown in the making of.
Special Features Grade: C-
Wheatley continues to make cinematic Marmite. But even the most casual viewer will find something to enjoy here. The blu ray release is only slightly let down by a lack of imagination on the special features front.
Overall Grade: C+