Ben Wheatley’s ascent as one of the UK’s most dazzling and prolific cinematic talents continues with this ballsy, high-octane action thriller. Sharp-witted Justine (Brie Larson) brokers a deal on behalf of two Irishmen (Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley), setting them up to buy a stash of guns from seedy gangsters Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer). But the meet-up in a deserted warehouse derails when stoner side-kick Stevo (Sam Riley) recognises one of the two handover guys (Jack Reynor, Noah Taylor) and shots are fired.
Dripping with blood, sweat and irony, Free Fire’s bravura filmmaking pays knowing tribute to the kinetic cinema of directors such as Sam Peckinpah and Ringo Lam. Wheatley and writing/editing partner Amy Jump’s relentlessly playful riff on the shoot-em-up is as fascinated with the slowness of destruction as it is with speed and action. The virtuosic editing and complex staging (it was shot on location in a warehouse outside Brighton) serve not only to propel the mayhem, but also to emphasise just how bloody long it takes, and how messy it is, to obliterate everything.
Notionally set in Boston and steeped in 1970s Americana (with threads and hairdos to die for… literally), the crackling script and knockout cast have as much fun with character and dialogue as we do with the fact that there are no mobile phones to save the day. Wheatley fan and supporter Martin Scorsese is one of the executive producers and the film’s intermittent, pulsating score is by Geoff Barrow (Portishead) and Ben Salisbury.