Free Fire (2017) review: A distinctly British twist on an American classic

Film

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Director: Ben Wheatley  Writers: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley Starring: Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Sharlto Copley, Jack Reynor, Babou Ceesay and more…

“An arms deal goes spectacularly and explosively wrong. Justine (Brie Larson) has brokered a meeting in a deserted warehouse between two Irishmen and a gang led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer), who are selling them a stash of guns. But when shots are fired during the handover, complete pandemonium ensues, with everyone at the scene suddenly thrust into a heart-stopping game of survival.”

If you were pitching to a studio executive you could describe Free Fire as being an action-packed homage to the 1970’s gritty crime B-movies so beloved of Quentin Tarantino.  Sold in another way you could describe it as a talky, theatrical set piece all housed in one warehouse in Boston. In another way you could well describe Free Fire as 90 minutes of 10 (Ok, shhh…12) great actors crawling around the floor, firing guns indiscriminately at one another. All are true, but all under-sell it as a film, as it’s certainly more than the sum of it’s parts.

Wheatley and Jump’s witty script takes in a range of styles from a pastiche of the aforementioned gritty 70’s crime flick like the two choices presented by Vernon to Ord:

Vernon: We’ve got two choices. One, you distract them and I leave.
Ord: What?
Vernon: Two, you kill all of these motherfuckers and I leave.

To those which could have been plucked from a distinctly pre-PC 70’s sitcom:

Vernon:You’re a bird, they’re not going to shoot a bird!”

The costumes, hair and make-up are all fantastic, capturing the glamour of the late 70’s while perfectly encapsulating each character.

Somehow, in spite of the witty dialogue (which more than passes the Kermodian 6 laugh test), great costumes and a plot familiar to more glossy films, Free Fire feels wonderfully ordinary. I mean that in the best possible way. The film seems to outline exactly what would happen if 10 (*cough* 12) real people with guns, grudges and quick tempers found themselves in a shoot-out. Shots ring out randomly, people get shot in the leg, bullets graze shoulder-pads. This is not neat, Hollywood violence (a nice aside about the ‘real’ Hollywood being in Ireland is made early on). This is bullets accidentally ricocheting off the walls and hitting your mate in the butt. This is you cowering behind a concrete pillar hoping everyone will just walk away.

Even the direction and choreography of the violence lends itself to this feeling of chaos and normality. None of the usual action director tricks are pulled out of the bag, with bullets flying in all directions, the camera crossing the line wildly, dragging the audience in to the character’s point of view.

Free Fire somehow manages to brilliantly balance drama, comedy and tension, with huge laughs almost immediately interrupted by a wince and your hands involuntarily flying in front of your face.

Sharlto Copley’s comic turn as the ostentatiously-coiffed and 70’s Savile Row-suited Vernon is a joy to behold, as is Armie Hammer as the charismatic and handsome stoner who just doesn’t really seem to be bothered about the whole affair. Cillian Murphy and Brie Larson’s more straight laced roles are also worthy of note as both give great performances which hold up against the big comedy guns.

Being Ben Wheatley there is of course somewhat of a twist in this cinematic tale…

Free Fire feels like a modern classic, somehow managing to breathe new life into what was a tired cinematic trope.

9 out of 10

 

 

 

High Rise -2016 (review): The beautiful breakdown of capitalist society

Film

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Directed by: Ben Wheatley Written by: J.G. Ballard (novel), Amy Jump Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller

Synopsis: Adaptation of the J.G. Ballard novel in which life for the residents of an experimental tower block begins to run out of control.

High Rise could be seen as a film made up of Ben Wheatley’s greatest hits. Blending together the dark black humour of Sightseers, the social commentary of Down Terrace, the pitch black thrills of Kill List  and the all-out psychedelia of A Field in England. Yes, it’s funny and dark.  He has managed to blend his very distinctive voice with those of an incredible team, to produce something which feels like a future cult classic.

Amy Jump’s script is a sometimes-on-the-nose critique of capitalism, bringing Ballard’s themes bang up to date. Indeed it felt particularly timely given the current infighting in the British Conservative government, as if we were firmly in the middle of the chaos we see on screen. Also interesting to note she helped edit the film.

The design is beautiful, with a retro-futurism that makes the time frame of the piece difficult to pin down, marrying 60’s, 70’s and 80’s aesthetics with an almost Blade Runner-esque futurism. This timelessness is very firmly marked out early on, with Dr Laing (Hiddleston) opining they were “living in a future that had already taken place”.

Hiddleston is becoming the master of social chameleon roles, with his take on Dr Laing not being a million miles away from his character in the brilliant BBC drama The Night Manager. He is at once seductive, charming and remote, seemingly withholding a secret, sadness or brutality that is hard to read. His character sits firmly on the fence, blending with both those on the lower and upper floors of the High Rise. He finds himself being described as “the best amenity in the building” by some of it’s female denizens, echoing the sentiment that Laing and the building are inseparable.

Like Kubrick’s The Shining, the titular High Rise is one of the most prominent characters on screen, evolving with the characters inside it, from shiny new utopia, to burned out husk.

Clint Mansell’s soundtrack is superb, perfectly mirroring the chaos and mania that ensue, and ensuring that the audience feel as out of kilter as the characters.

While High Rise won’t be bringing Ben Wheatley to the mass market, it is likely to become a future cult classic in the vein of Brazil or even The Wicker Man.

 

9 out of 10

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