It’s something that we can all agree on that director Ben Wheatley is undoubtedly one of the most polarising directors currently working in the industry. His unique filmmaking style and the content within his movies are certainly distinct and unique but he can often prove a difficulty in delivering cohesive and palpable movie experiences. From his praise-lauded Kill List to the massively polarising High Rise, Wheatley already possesses somewhat of a mixed bag of a filmography, ranging from the hilarious (Sightseers) to the downright bizarre (A Field In England). Now he’s armed with an A-list cast and a single location movie with plenty of guns. Is Free Fire on the mark or does it waste its ammo and misfire in all directions?
In short, Wheatley’s latest feels rather disappointing in the fact that he is armed to the teeth with such exceptional talent and yet he delivers us a cinematic experience that is rather repetitive and is all too often devoid of exciting ideas. The premise of Free Fire is a simple one: in a deal set up by Brie Larson’s Justine and Armie Hammer’s Ord, Chris (Cillian Murphy) and his crew descend upon a warehouse in order to exchange their money for a shedload of guns supplied by a group led by the flamboyant Vernon (Sharlto Copley).
When Vernon’s driver Harry (Jack Reynor) notices something rather familiar and unwelcoming about one of Chris’s crew (Sam Riley) the seemingly simple task of the handover turns into all-out chaos, with bullets flying left, right and centre within the warehouse and everyone’s lives on the line. Can anyone make it out with either the guns or the money, or will they ultimately pick each other off one by one?
For such a simple premise you’d think that Wheatley could have an absolute ball with not only his all-star cast but also the scenario that he has set up. With multiple characters possessing rather striking personalities and a wealth of weapons to create true havoc, Free Fire should have been an all-out, balls-to-the-wall actioner that delivered laughs aplenty, tension and sheer excitement – and yet after exiting the cinema it felt all too samey and ridiculously tedious for the most part. When a film consists of a formula that regularly showcases shooting at one another followed by dialogue, shortly followed by more shooting and then repeated it only feels dull after the first half an hour. This rinse and repeat technique from Wheatley just doesn’t sit well and instead feels like a hugely wasted opportunity.
It’s a big opportunity neglected especially as there are some really interesting characters in the mix who, with a little added pizzazz could have really sold this movie so much more. Brie Larson is massively underused as the sole female within the firefight and Armie Hammer’s clearly experienced shooter feels stupidly undersold in his skillset throughout. Cillian Murphy’s Chris feels almost too reserved and despite moments of brilliance, Sam Riley and Michael Smiley too feel like they could have been given so much more. Of the motley crew involved, Jack Reynor shines in his ‘moments’, as too does Babou Ceesay, delivering the funniest sequences as he goes from death to action in a brainless blitz of madness. And then there’s Sharlto Copley, once again showing us that he can be incredibly annoying and frustrating all in one swoop. Here’s a guy who simply hasn’t been at the top of his game ever since he broke onto the scene with that exceptional District 9 turn.
As an overall experience, Free Fire is certainly an easy watch that doesn’t require too much attention to detail to get something out of. Unfortunately, it wears the patience thin in its repetitive nature and sad lack of utilising its wealth of potentially red-hot characters. For a film that is rather short (90 minutes), it feels like an age, and once the conclusion comes around you neither care about the fate of the characters or how they come to their respective closures. Many will undoubtedly revel in the firefights and quick-fire quips but ultimately this feels like Ben Wheatley has brought a knife to a gunfight.
Free Fire is released in UK cinemas on 31st March.