Free Fire is basically a movie about an HR issue. Justine and Ord are two “point guys” in an arms deal. She’s bringing Chris (Cillian Murphy), an IRA guy who needs some M-16s to the table, along with his rag-tag crew, and he’s bringing Vernon (Sharlto Copley), the money-obsessed guy with a van full of guns (although, notably, NOT M-16s) and his own motley crew. From the minute these two rival gangs meet, the two sides are twitchy. All they have to do is exchange the briefcase full of cash for the crates full of guns, and the deal is done. But they just rub each other the wrong way. Everyone’s got an unchecked ego, everyone wants to be the boss, and nobody’s going to make this easy. If arms dealers had HR ladies stashed away in some ficus-strewn office, all of this could have been resolved with a stress ball and some trust exercises. But arms dealers tend to offer very few benefits as employers, so instead it goes to hell.
It goes gloriously to hell. It turns out that the driver of the first gang had an issue with the driver of the other gang the night before, and seeing each other turns a bad situation worse. Suddenly everyone’s whipping out their little pistols and bullets are flying. How many bullets? About 7000 rounds, said director Ben Wheatley. That’s a LOT of bullets. So the whole of the movie takes place in this abandoned warehouse where this arms deal has been all but forgotten, everyone shooting at each other, everyone forgetting which side they’re supposed to be on, the sides in fact disintegrating as it quickly becomes every man for himself.
I knew going in that Free Fire is a 70s shoot-em-up genre film, but I had failed to fathom how funny it is. Sharlto Copley is an absolute scene-stealer, his over-the-top character really embodies the pure fun and wackiness of this film. It’s madcap madness and I totally loved every minute of it. I didn’t know I could have so much fun at a Ben Wheatley film. A terrific script by Wheatley and Amy Jump is quotable, the cheeky dialogue rolling off the tongues of a delightful ensemble cast. The frenetic, non-stop energy sometimes makes it difficult to keep track of who is shooting who, and where, but once you realize that even the principal players are confused, it really takes the pressure off. The anarchy is entertaining and you can tell it was as gleefully acted and directed as it is consumed. No true hero ever distinguishes him or herself , which doesn’t mean you won’t find your own favourite to root for, only that’ it’s an even playing field where anything is possible.
Free Fire was meticulously choreographed by Wheatley but still required logistic heroics of cinematographer Laurie Rose and precision editing by Wheatley and Jump. The movie charmed me with its audacious humour but it also pulls off an hour-long assault that sounds one-note on paper but honestly, I could have had more. I love the recklessness, the wickedness, the irreverence; I was greedy for it the whole way through and Ben Wheatley served it up as only he could.
Check out the comments section for a Q&A with Wheatley and some of the cast!