Ben WheatleyUnited Kingdom90 minutes2016ColourEnglish
Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, and Cillian Murphy star in the hotly anticipated new film by Ben Wheatley (Kill List, High-Rise), about a weapons deal gone wrong that escalates into a manic, bullet-riddled standoff inside an abandoned warehouse.
Britain's Ben Wheatley is a chameleonic auteur, bringing his unique touch to material as diverse as the dark horror of Kill List, the pitch-black comedy of Sightseers, and the psychedelic chaos of A Field in England and High-Rise. Now, with his first film set and shot in the US (and sporting a Martin Scorsese executive producer credit), he masters the '70s crime caper with a high-concept thriller that takes place almost entirely within a single location.
It's 1978, and Justine (Brie Larson, who won the Best Actress Oscar for last year's Festival hit Room) has brokered a gun deal in an abandoned warehouse between IRA men Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Wheatley regular Michael Smiley), and gun dealers Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and cool-as-a-cuke Ord (Armie Hammer, also appearing at this year's Festival in The Birth of A Nation and Nocturnal Animals). The tension is thicker than the Irish brogues. But everything seems to be going smoothly — until shots are fired during the handover and pandemonium ensues, the warehouse erupting in a barrage of gunfire worthy of John Woo. The explosive and chaotic battle escalates to a manic standoff, a bloody game of survival where everyone left alive is either trying to escape with a bag of money, or make sure that nobody else does.
Tight action choreography and an even tighter script by Wheatley and his filmmaking partner Amy Jump make the compact war zone of Free Fire crackle with heart-stopping action and offbeat humour, the witty banter ricocheting as furiously as the bullets. While Copley's comedic chops are especially well used, and Hammer reveals a refreshingly funny side, the entire ensemble (which also includes Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor, and Sam Riley as a bumbling junkie) shines, displaying sharp comic timing and giving intensely physical performances. From the tensely atmospheric opening shots, it is obvious that Free Fire is another stunner from one of today's greatest genre filmmakers.