You know the final shootout in an action film or a western? How you always wish it could come sooner and last longer, as that's all you’re really waiting for? Well, dream on no longer, you bloody fantasists - Free Fire is here to satisfy your every whim.
At a lean, exceptionally mean 90 minutes, Ben Wheatley, with his sixth feature-length film, has created the antidote to shoddy time-wasting blockbusters weighed down by their own impenetrable exposition. After the high-minded High Rise, Wheatley follows it up with a paean to the lowest-common denominator, a homage to cinema’s timeless dedication to resolving all problems with gunfire.
The setting is an abandoned warehouse in Boston in 1973. Members of the IRA have come to buy weapons from a gang of mismatched arms dealers, but after the tension builds for a good 15 minutes of edgy conversation, the excrement hits the air-conditioning and everyone starts shooting at each other for the next 70 minutes.
Wheatley, along with his frequent collaborator (and wife) Amy Jump, augment this smorgasbord of gunshots and violence with a perfectly pitched script filled with the sort of blackly comic exchanges that made Sightseers and Kill List such low-budget critical successes. The dialogue varies from foul-mouthed intelligence to preposterously stupid insults, but the quality rarely wavers.
With such fantastic dialogue, the actors might be of little consequence, but Wheatley has brought together an excellent ensemble to take the shootout to the level of fine art. Cillian Murphy tries out his natural Irish lilt for a change, Sharlto Copley has his inimitable, unexplainably funny South African brogue and Noah Taylor’s accent is another bizarre amalgamation of every place he’s ever been. All however (including Brie Larson, Armie Hammer and Sam Riley) enhance the sensory overload of flying shrapnel by being charmingly unlikeable throughout.
Despite the barrage of bullets, there’s still time for the customary revelations and backstabbings that are the lifeblood of crime dramas. The plot isn’t neglected at all but is accompanied constantly by bombardments of ammunition at every turn.
If this all sounds overwhelming, it most definitely isn't in practice. It’s relentless without being repetitious and bombastic without being brainless. There are several violently slapstick moments and ridiculous misunderstandings that turn the film into an adrenaline-fuelled absurdist masterpiece that rarely pauses for breath.
If Tarantino could reign his ego in a little and stop referencing every film he has ever seen, he could possibly make something as good as this again. If not, it won’t matter, as Wheatley is reaching the peak of his powers and will hopefully be bringing together lots more people to kill each other for many years to come.