Thank goodness for Ben Wheatley. The mastermind behind modern British film classics Kill List, Sightseers and A Field In England made his name via a wonderfully warped approach that recalled Alfred Hitchcock directing a particularly perverse episode of The League Of Gentlemen. It didn’t take long for him to catch the eye of the mainstream, and last year a s**t-ton of money was thrown at him to create a confused but stylish adaptation of JG Ballard’s dystopian thriller High-Rise.
Free Fire marks his first official foray into A-list territory. For a start, the film is set in the States – Boston, to be exact – but was actually filmed in Sussex. There are also big name American actors like Brie Larson and Armie Hammer accompanying Wheatley’s gruff, unlikely muse Michael Smiley, Peaky Blinders’ Cillian Murphy and Control’s Sam Riley, suggesting that the film is aiming for some serious box-office business. Wheatley has also softened up his trademark weirdness as a concession to the conventions of the A-list, but there are still plenty of odd thrills – and gruesome moments – to be found here.
Written by Wheatley and his wife Amy Jump, this tense action flick is set in the late 1970s and sees some shady criminals – in fittingly flammable post-disco attire – meeting up in a warehouse to swap lots of money for lots of guns. Unsurprisingly, things do not go to plan. Like a Harold Pinter stage play crossed with a Quentin Tarantino movie, all of the action takes place in the one grimy location. Like Tarantino too, the soundtrack selections are on point, with John Denver’s cheesy pop-folk ballad ‘Annie’s Song (You Fill Up My Senses)’ used to stunning effect. If cinematic gunfire is your bag, then this trigger-happy flick
will delight and rattle your eardrums in equal measure.
Although Free Fire isn’t without its flaws – the relentless mocking of a South African character’s accent swiftly becomes very dry indeed – the frenetic pace and outstanding gore make for an exhilarating 90 minutes.