In the vein of directors such as Shane Meadows, Guy Ritchie in his early days and Edgar Wright, Ben Wheatley came into this contest hotly tipped as one of Britain’s hottest and most sought after talents. His ability to forge coherent characters in conjunction with breathtaking storytelling has raised him to a status many would consider to be beyond their reach. So, when the announcement of “Free Fire” was made, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realise the potential this film had. A potential for a tensely intimate standoff between some of Hollywood’s heaviest lifters, buoyed further by a script sure to satisfy the majority.
Round 1 – Story
Free Fire does not hesitate in its willingness to get the ball rolling as soon as it possibly can. Within the first 15 minutes the story gives us plot, tone and location at a fairly frenetic pace. Cillian Murphy plays IRA representative Chris, the would-be leader of a gang of rough-and-tumble freedom fighters looking to buy a wealth of heavy weaponry from Vernon, a former child genius turned dealer with penchant for the over exuberant, portrayed by the ever charming Sharlito Copley.
Entwined amongst all of this is Brie Larson’s Justine and Armie Hammer’s Ord, two people seemingly in it for the good of the deal and no prior agenda as we can tell.
As you can imagine, the deal goes south in spectacular fashion, resulting a particularly drawn out standoff between the 2 respective parties. This is where I believe Free Fire loses its direction in a considerable way. Although the action itself is relatively enjoyable, the pace in which it happened struggled to ever reach a steady level. For too long was the stand-off between the combatants dragged across the ground while the characters caught their breathe. I can appreciate the ambition to create tension as well as maintain a whimsical attitude, how ambition such as this only appears to suck the life out of a naturally precarious scenario.
Overall, the Story does chug along at a moderately manageable rate. Sure the middle feels slow, and the final act doesn’t really have a payoff worthy of its prior exploits. However what it does show is a director willing to take the genre of period action movie and turn the standard on to its side. This, for the most part, provides an enjoyable tale, told with a joyful swagger by those participating in it.
Round 1 Score – 6/10
Round 2 – Characters
The characters of Free Fire are, for want of a better term, a random bunch of people. When I say random I do not mean uninteresting, I mean an eclectic group of people you cannot help but remember. Is this necessarily a good thing? The jury’s still out. But when it comes to a memorable cast held together by a reasonably compelling script, this does not disappoint.
When discussing the characters of Free Fire, it would be a massive disservice not to mention Sharlito Copley’s completely bonkers performance as Vernon. I genuinely don’t think I can express an appropriate comparison to describe the sheer lunacy of Copley’s performance. From the minute he arrives on screen to the minute he leaves, he pushes the levels of tolerance to the limit.
Furthermore, the group of IRA sympathisers, including Sam Reilly as the drug addict Stevo and Michael Smiley as the not to be messed with Frank, do not disappoint in the time they spend on screen. Sure there are moments when you really have to pay attention to the accents of the actors that may have adopted it for the purpose of this film.
Beyond this, the performances from Brie Larson as Justine and Armie Hammer as Ord serve only as a method of maintaining the levity of the plot without ever really making too much of an impact. That being said, Larson cannot give a subpar performance, her attitude towards the craft only grows greater the longer she spends in the industry.
A great group of characters supported more so by an ever so feasible progression from would-be terrorists to have-a-go heroes in a reasonably short amount of time
Round 2 Score – 8/10
Round 3 – Overall Enjoyment
So by now it’s obvious that had become obvious that the characters were the glue that would Free Fire together and help it across the finish line at a considerably comfortable pace.
In terms of enjoyment, this really is a film worth experiencing. It’s audacious story, extravagant cast and luxurious tones of Armie Hammer will not fail to keep you hooked until the very end. The pace does hinder the general progression of the plot, but don’t let that put you off, Free Fire is a clear indication of things to come. If this truly is Ben Wheatley first real step in to the feature film industry, then I can’t wait to see his second.
Round 3 Score – 7/10
Final Score: Free Fire wins by decision 21/30.
Free Fire is one of those films that will probably fall underneath a lot of people’s radar for all of the wrong reasons. It’s self contained mayhem, wacky characterisation and moderately simple plot deserves a lot more attention than it is necessarily receiving. A movie of reasonable length that is sure to leave to scratching your head as to where the time has just gone.