Free Fire

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Release date: 31st March 2017/Watch the trailer here

A shootout set entirely in one location for the duration of a ninety-minute film may not sound like a particularly appealing concept, but somehow writer and director Ben Wheatley has pulled it off with guns blazing (literally). Set in Boston in the late seventies, Free Fire sees a weapons deal between two gangs go horribly wrong, resulting in a deadly gunfight within the confines of a deserted warehouse.

There are a lot of players involved – ten, to be precise – and the cast that Wheatley has assembled, along with some sharp and surprisingly comical dialogue by Wheatley and his wife and writing partner Amy Jump, is a large part of what makes Free Fire work quite so well.

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Brie Larson is as likeable as ever, standing out as Justine, the only woman in a room full of testosterone – and while every actor has their moment, it’s Sharlto Copley as weaselly gun-runner Vernon who gets all of the best lines. Justine and Vernon are joined in the warehouse by IRA buyers Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), hired muscle Stevo (Sam Riley) and Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), middleman and negotiator Ord (Armie Hammer), as well as Vernon’s associate, Martin (Babou Ceesay) and their own hired help, Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor). Ninety minutes isn’t long enough to really get to know any of these individuals, but most of them are fleshed out just enough along the way to be distinguishable once the bullets start flying.

The shootout that comprises the majority of Free Fire‘s brief runtime is triggered over a disagreement between Stevo and Harry, who just so happened to get into a bar fight the night before over Stevo’s unwelcome advances towards Harry’s cousin. Once the first shot is fired, Free Fire dissolves into a chaotic free-for-all, with most of the violence (aside from a couple of particularly nasty deaths) played for laughs rather than winces. This is the kind of gunfight that we never see in movies; where characters actually run out of ammo, rarely hit their target, and where getting shot actually looks like it hurts, rather than walking it off as if it were a paper cut.

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Inevitably, Free Fire does begin to run out of steam towards the end, and Wheatley was smart to know when it was time to wrap things up. It’s a film with very little substance – seemingly Wheatley was itching to just make a silly action movie for once – but it works simply because it doesn’t pretend to have substance. Instead, it’s ninety minutes of ridiculously entertaining mayhem, carried to the finish line by some very, very funny comedy and a clever knack for avoiding genre clichés.

★★

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