First published by RealCrime Magazine
Like Ben Wheatley’s previous feature, his latest is set in the 1970s, and features an ensemble of players turning on each other inside a building. There, however, all similarities end. For where High-Rise (2015) was a sprawling Ballardian folly that teased out the shifts and tensions in Britain’s socioeconomic structure that would engender Thatcherism, Free Fire is a pared-down shoot-em-up set in America, more or less beginning where most crime action thrillers end – with a shoot out – and then playing out the repercussions and ricochets in real time over its lean 90-minute duration.
In an abandoned Boston factory, an Irish gang (led by Cillian Murphy’s Chris) has come to buy assault rifles, and a local gang (led by Sharlto Copley’s Vernon) has come to sell them, with Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer) serving as brokers – but the deal goes south fast when a personal grievance between underlings from either side (played by Sam Riley and Jack Reynor) leads to shots being fired, and soon everyone is bleeding and struggling to survive. The ensuing chaos of flying bullets, double crosses and body trauma affords each and every actor (including Noah Taylor, Babou Ceesay and dependable Wheatley regular Michael Smiley) time to shine in all their scuzzy mortality.
Driven as much by Amy Sharp and Wheatley’s witty dialogue as by the whizzing and pinging of ammunition, Free Fire shows what happens when male machismo comes well armed. “Oh, men!” Justine exclaims with exasperation, with words that might have served as the subtitle to this droll satire of America’s gun culture – not, in the end, so easily exported.
© Anton Bitel