A love letter to Free Fire (2016)
It was only a few weeks into lockdown when we found ourselves without a Friday night movie in our household. Now you may ask how so? With the breadth of choice across Netflix and Amazon Video you would think we would have an endless supply of new films, however the fabled Friday/ Saturday night entertainment in our house has to meet a certain criteria. Absorbing Oscar winning Drama? Not a chance in hell. Enthralling beautifully crafted Biopic? Let me show you the door. The weekend film in our house has to fit within one or more genres: Action, Comedy, Action Comedy, Romcom or some close amalgamation of those. It’s the weekend, we want a good time.
So without anything new out and most (decently rated) past films within those genres already watched, we decided upon a rare occurrence in our house: The Rewatch.
Looking down my highest rated films on Letterboxd/ iMDb there are few films within those genres that are high rated, I like those genre’s but wouldn’t often rate them over maybe 7/10. So after some searching, my Dad & I happened upon Free Fire on Amazon Video, the 2016 Action, Comedy, Crime film directed by Ben Wheatley (High Rise, Sightseers, Kill List). I hadn’t watched the film since release but fondly remember how enjoyable it was, but equally surprised that I’d given it 10/10 on iMDb. The film fit the bill; action, comedy and lacking any opportunity of a sex scene which is awkward enough when watching a film with your Granny, Mum & Dad.
Wheatley assembled a star studded cast of Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Michael Smiley, Jack Reynor, Sam Riley, Enzo Cilenti, Babou Ceesay, and Noah Taylor. They each bring something hilarious and unique to the straightforward plot: A meeting in a deserted warehouse between arms dealers & buyers goes south, resulting in a deadly shoot-out. What I love about Free Fire is that it doesn’t try to be anything more than it is, the film is like a 91 minute version of that classic SNL ‘Dear Sister’ sketch that had Andy Samberg, Bill Hader, Shia LaBeouf and Kristen Wiig shooting each other. The films comedy oozes out of each characters reaction to being shot, shot at, double crossed or simply insulted from either end of the warehouse.
Now if you’re reading this and haven’t seen the film, you may ask how ones attention would be held watching people shoot each other for 90 minutes. This is achieved through the expertly crafted screenplay of Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump; from the wonderful exchange between Ord (Armie Hammer) and Frank (Michael Smiley) discussing both Los Angeles and Northern Ireland’s “Hollywood” to basically every word that comes out of the mouth of Vernon (Sharlto Copley). Each piece of dialogue between characters flow wonderfully; building both tension and humour exponentially as bullets ping and ricochet throughout the warehouse, impacting various legs, shoulders, heads and bums as the night progresses.
The film strips away a lot of the staples of mainstream narrative and instead focuses on delivering moments of pure cinema. The single location where the action plays out never feels boring; one thing I love about films revolving around one room is that the audience has the opportunity to grasp the geography, gaining a real sense of place. This adds an almost theatre like element to the proceedings, the warehouse becoming a stage for the actors to perform upon.
From a technical point of view the cinematography and editing further lends itself to the frantic nature of the story. Rather than focusing on the guns or the power that any one actor has with an arsenal at their disposal; the camera instead pivots between the reaction of the characters, broken glass under foot and other objects of the environment that cause bodily harm. Alongside the use of music from John Denver and Creedence Clearwater Revival, the movie has a brilliant score composed by Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow (Annihilation, Ex Machina), of which the album versions has a well worked compilation of music and dialogue from the film.
As we watched the film the family was in a fit of laughter throughout, and I founded myself equally amused listening to the same jokes I had heard before. It was also interesting to see who was rooting for which character; my mum was very fond of Sam Riley’s Stevo (possibly the most resilient of the characters considering how many times he is shot). I had to admire Armie Hammer’s Ord who try to keep his cool regardless of the situation, and Michael Smiley’s Frank who never gives up throwing insults at Old ever since they first meet.
Free Fire for me is one of those films I could watch over and over and still find it as enjoyable and funny. It’s 90 minutes of bullets and insults delivered from a brilliant cast in a single location, a filmmaking feat that a number of directors would struggle with but one that Ben Wheatley, in my opinion, has dispatched perfectly.
At the time of writing Free Fire is available to watch on Prime Video.