The exhibition is open in London until 8th April 2018
Director: John Krasinski Writers: Bryan Woods (screenplay by), Scott Beck (screenplay by) | 3 more credits » Stars: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds
“If they hear you, they hunt you”; the seemingly simple premise for A Quiet Place manages to bring out a lot of scares and a surprisingly engaging emotional drama to boot to what could have been a B movie horror.
John Krasinski is probably still best known for his role as Jim Halpert in The U.S Office, despite a turn as the TV incarnation of Jack Ryan, but this directorial outing (his second after the 2016 romcom The Hollars) will ensure he will be remembered for much more than the affable romantic lead.
A Quiet Place is set in a near-future where human-kind is being hunted to the point of extinction.
Day 89- The world we enter is near silent as Evelyn (Emily Blunt) and Lee (Krasinski) roam a looted pharmacy with their three children, barefoot, trying not to make a sound. We are shown that the eldest, Regan (played by the excellent Millicent Simmonds) is deaf which puts her in immediate additional peril as she is unaware of the sounds around her. Following the most harrowing opening 15 minutes since Up! it is revealed that terrifying monsters lurk all around, their attacks triggered by the slightest sound.
Day 472- We are then plunged into the day to day lives of the family one year on from the fateful trip to the pharmacy as they try to survive in the now silent world. Soon the camera pans down Emily Blunt’s body, revealing she is heavily pregnant. Synapses start firing as the concept of trying to keep a newborn baby quiet registers, not to mention actually being able to give birth silently. The pregnancy does, of course, become a key focus for the plot as we see preparations beginning and inevitably go awry.
A Quiet Place is a neat and perfectly taut 90 minutes long, but it really packs a punch within that time. Despite the lack of verbal dialogue (much of the communication between the family is sign language, subtitled for the audience) Krasinski has elicited some great performances from the cast, particularly the younger cast members. So much is shown in one glance that dialogue becomes superfluous. A particularly touching scene involving real-life couple Krasinski and Blunt with just touches and glances, soundtracked by Neil Young’s Harvest Moon is a masterclass in both acting and directing- show, don’t tell. With a few deft scenes we begin to really become embroiled in the relationships of the family, their fears and hopes painted rather then explained. With this investment in the characters comes an added sense of peril as we become immersed in their world, flinching with every movement and potential sound.
There are of course some familiar horror elements; the cornfield outside the family home is the perfect place for unknown horrors to lurk, the “it’s behind you” jump-scares, the petulant teenager putting themselves in danger. The film is also oddly reminiscent of M. Night Shymalan’s much maligned Signs (a film I really like) both in terms of setting and tone. There is also a feeling of 80’s films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind, innocence mixed with dread. Then of course there is a parallels with The Mist and The Girl with all the Gifts with their distinctly non-mainstream endings. While some elements are not wholly original the overall effect is unlike most horror films you will have seen before, as it manages to be smart, emotionally nuanced and terrifying.
The ‘show, don’t tell’ approach does become a little over the top at the film’s conclusion as the audience is practically spoon fed one character’s thought processes and there is an over-reliance on newspaper headlines, but this is a dumbing-down blip in what is otherwise a clever horror film.
A Quiet Place will see you tip-toeing out of the cinema, hoping those monsters don’t come to get you.
8 out of 10
Director: Wes Anderson Writers: Wes Anderson (screenplay) Stars: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton
In Japan, in the not-too-distant future, the dog-hating Mayor of Megasaki island has banished all dogs to nearby Trash Island. As part of the cat-loving Kobayashi dynasty the Mayor tells his citizens he is protecting them from the perils of Canine Flu and Sout Fever, which have infected the entire dog population and are threatening to transfer to humans. We follow the adventures of a pack of dogs. (including Bryan Cranston and Chief, Edward Norton as Rex and Jeff Goldblum as Duke) on Trash Island, who are working to help a 12-year old boy (“dogs love those”), The Little Pilot, find his beloved dog Spots among the piles of rubbish and feral hounds.
In order to capture the communication difficulties between man and hound, Anderson has all of the dogs speak in English, while the human population speak largely in Japanese (save for Frances McDormand’s Interpreter Nelson and Greta Gerwig’s Tracy the Exchange Student). The Japanese is largely offered with no subtitles, but due to context and the deft animation it is never hard to understand what is being said.
The animation is beautiful, managing to keep the unique Anderson aesthetic while also giving firm nods to everyone from Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyasaki to Nick Park. The animation is apparently at 12 images per second, fewer than many stop-motion films, which adds to the jerky, off-kilter appeal. The intricate details in every scene are mind blowing, from the dogs’ fur seemingly blowing in the wind (from the animators hands simply touching the puppets between shots) to some of the scenery there is always a lot to look at. It’s a true feast for the eyes, sushi preparation and all.
This is a film that will stand up to multiple viewings as it is both visually stunning and densely packed with minor characters who could hold their own as part of their own narrative. Tilda Swinton’s brief turn as The Oracle, the seemingly psychic pug is just wonderful and all too brief. Yoko Ono also makes an appearance as Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono, a woman whose back story I would love to hear.
Anderson is often criticised for the coldness of his films, retaining a constant distance from the audience which means connection with the characters become difficult. Isle of Dogs is no different, with an omniscient narrator and chapter headings clearly delineating where in the narrative we are. The landscapes are bleak, with the monochrome of Trash Island a stark contrast to the beauty of Megasaki city. However the characters, despite the trademark Anderson stilted dialogue, still manage to display a lot of warmth. I’m not ashamed to say this was the first Wes Anderson film that made me cry. Twice. The dogs and their relationships both with each other and the various humans they encounter seem far more developed than many of Anderson live action human characters, perhaps a nod to the high esteem with which he holds our canine friends.
Isle of Dogs is a beautiful and engaging film, with plenty to keep both ardent cinephiles, dog-lovers and more mainstream cinema goers entertained.
9 out of 10
Stars: Sandra Escacena, Bruna González, Claudia Placer
Set in Madrid in 1991 and based (extremely loosely) on true events, Veronica tells the chilling supernatural tale of the 15 year-old titular heroine and a series of unexplained events taking place over a few days.
Veronica is the carer for her three younger siblings, while their mother is mostly absent, a fleeting figure in their lives who spends her days and nights working in a local bar since the death of the childrens’ father. While Veronica’s friends are experimenting with smoking and boys Veronica is left with the mundane role of young carer, cleaning, cooking and acting as babysitter to her siblings.
The film is set in familiar horror territory; an eclipse and a convent school. Scary nuns and the world being plunged into darkness provide a solid start for supernatural horror. Amidst this backdrop Veronica and her friend (with interloper to the friendship and experienced older girl Diana) try to contact Veronica’s dead father through a ouija board in the basement of the school. Very quickly the seance takes an unsettling turn and Veronica has a terrifying seizure.
Veronica finds herself in the school nurse’s office where the event is explained away as anemia or low blood pressure, leading her to reveal she has not yet had her first period. Thus we stumble into the real main theme of the film, the changing pubescent female body, which has long been a source of great fascination and horror.
Paco Plaza keeps with the urban high rise setting of his previous films [REC] and [REC 2] (which are two films which I find genuinely chilling) to great effect. Employing a Rear Window approach to exploring Veronica’s own stunted teenage years he shows the stark contrast of a teenage girl in a neighbouring building who is enjoying all the normal teenage freedoms of dancing, making out and being looked after. Meanwhile our heroine slowly unravels under the weight of responsibility of being parent to her much younger siblings while tackling her own changing body, forcing her to straddle the two worlds of childhood and adulthood.
While the film could be viewed as another ouija board driven supernatural horror, an alternative explanation for events is firmly apparent, making Veronica far more compelling viewing than many of it’s horror counterparts. Veronica’s mother uttering ominously “I need you to grow up” framing the narrative for the rest of the film.
Sandra Escacena is mesmorising in the title role, managing to capture both child-like innocence and a building anger and passion, all the torment of hormonal teenage years coming out in rage filled bursts, which may or may not be related to a summoned demon. Her siblings are also superb, with the two bickering twin sisters Irene and Lucia (played by Bruna Gonzalez and Claudia Placer) displaying sass and verve, while young Antonito (Ivan Chavero) manages to be supremely cute without being irritating.
The special effects are largely practical and in-camera, which is when the projection of Veronica’s haunting is at it’s most effective. Indeed the appearance of the children’s father is an image that will remain with me for a long time. Some appearances of the spirit are a little hokey, but these are always the moments when we see the horror through the childrens’ eyes.
The real test of effective horror isn’t so much the experience while viewing, but what it does to you afterwards and somehow Veronica got firmly under my skin, making me sure I’d firmly locked my doors before going to bed.
Like The Babadook and Rosemary’s Baby before it, Veronica works best when it is rooted in the claustrophobia of family life and the terror of both childhood and adulthood. The hokum of being based on true events should remain secondary to what is an excellent piece of coming of age horror.
8.5 out of 10
Director: Paul King Starring: Ben Whishaw, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins, Hugh Bonneville
The 2014 Paddington film took everyone by surprise. Having had to recast the voice of Paddington himself when Colin Firth stepped away from the project, many already sceptical folk were worried the end product might be a bit of a mess. However it ended up being in many critics top ten lists of the year and Ben Whishaw’s voicing of Paddington left us all convinced he was the only man for the job. It was an absolute delight and has become a staple family favourite.
Given the joy with which the first film was met, this second outing had a lot to live up to. Luckily it more than exceeds expectations, with Paul King and Simon Farnaby’s script being both riotously funny, supremely touching and even politically savvy.
Paddington 2 centres around the titular bear’s wish to find the perfect birthday present for his Aunt Lucy, who is still living out in Peru. He is still living with the Brown family in Windsor Gardens and is a firmly established member of the community. Visiting Mr Gruber’s antique shop he finds a one-of-a-kind pop-up book (or popping book, as Jim Broadbent’s Gruber would have it) featuring London landmarks. However, upon discovering how much it would cost Paddington decides to earn the money by getting a job to buy it for his favourite Aunt. Cue some hilarity involving first electric clippers and then a plastic bucket. Meanwhile a wonderful steamfair is opened nearby by Hugh Grant’s fading star, and neighbour to the Browns, Phoenix Buchanan. Plans for Paddington’s perfect present are then scuppered when the ‘popping book’ is stolen, leading to Paddington and the Browns working to unmask the thief.
Whishaw yet again turns in a wonderful vocal performance as Paddington, the kind-hearted bear who believes that being kind can make the world a better place. You completely fall in love with his vulnerability and optimism, ending up really rooting for the little bear.
The whole Brown family are warm and a little nuts, with more wonderful performances by Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins. Hugh Grant is magnificently unhinged as fading star Buchanan, bringing a little Machiavellian menace to his music hall shenanigans.
The production design is wonderful, from an incredible sequence featuring the ‘popping book’ itself to the Brown’s fabulous house and design of Windsor Gardens, with a less-twee Wes Anderson feel to it all.
The supporting cast are all universally incredible, with some of British comedy’s biggest names appearing in tiny, but brilliant, roles. Paul King’s previous life as director of The Mighty Boosh really shows again, as he has an absolutely brilliant grasp of comedy timing and lends the whole affair a wonderfully off-kilter feel.
Paddington 2 is as whimsical and joyous as the first film, with some genuinely hilarious moments of comedy and beautifully drawn characters. It balances this with some really great action sequences and some moments of real peril for Paddington and the Browns, which will have you both on the edge of your seat and possible shedding a tear.
It’s a film that will delight children and adults alike and will doubtless be a firm festive favourite for many years to come.
9.5 out of 10
Director: Juan Carlos Medina
Writers: Peter Ackroyd (novel), Jane Goldman (screenplay)
Set in the gloomy East End of London, The Limehouse Golem is a gory Victorian whodunnit with a gloriously twisted difference.
Directed by Juan Carlos Medina (director of 2012 film Painless) the film is based on a 1994 novel by Peter Ackroyd, “Dan Leno and The Limehouse Golem”, a metafictional pastiche on the Victorian ‘shocker’ which interwove theatrical drama around a spate of murders, featuring real-life historical figures from Leno himself (a lauded music hall star) to the very-much-original Marxist, Karl Marx. The unusual source material has been adapted for the screen by Kick-Ass, Kingsman: The Secret Service and Stardust scribe Jane Goldman, who has added additional layers to the tale shifting the action away from the famous men, and back to a female perspective.
The films starts with curtains drawing back on the stage with the words “Let us begin my friends, at the end” uttered by Dan Leno, (Douglas Booth, escaping his usual type-casting as pretty posh-boy for a wonderful outing as a cockney music hall blend of Freddie Mercury and Russell Brand) and so the tale begins to be told, shifting between flashbacks aided by voiceovers to the escalating events relating to the central storyline.
Bill Nighy plays John Kildare, a detective with a stalled career (“he’s not the marrying kind”, said with a knowing head nod) who is brought in by Scotland Yard to carry the can on the stalled investigation of a series of extremely brutal murders in the largely Jewish area of Limehouse. The murder victims have ranged from prostitutes to elderly men and children, with seemingly no pattern to the killings, other than the gruesome tableaus the murderer leaves behind.
Kildare is paired with enthusiastic native Eastender, Constable George Flood (played with some aplomb by the ever fabulous Daniel Mays), who has recently been investigating the death of a playwright, John Cree. Cree’s wife Lizzie (Olivia Cooke), herself an ex-music hall star, stands accused of her husband’s murder and will face the death penalty if found guilty. The two cases begin to interweave as Kildare finds himself fascinated by Lizzie Cree’s rags to riches tale, learning how she was abused as a child, the two outsiders become drawn together, with the detective going to desperate lengths to save her.
The Limehouse Golem is a wonderfully atmospheric, Victorian murder mystery, with a twist in the tale. Elements of Hammer horror meet scenes which wouldn’t have felt out of place in Se7en, with the odd bawdy song and dance routine thrown in for good measure. The production design is beautifully realised, with the grim and grimy back alleys of Limehouse contrasting with the grease-paint of the music hall and the splendour of Lizzie’s married life.
Olivia Cooke as Lizzie is terrific, playing on her wide-eyed innocence with some joy, drawing us in as she recounts her tale to Kildare from her prison cell.
“You don’t need saving,” Kildare tells Lizzie. “Not by me. Not by any man.” While it is the famous men whose names initially draw the detective’s eye, this is a film about women claiming centre-stage.
8 out of 10
Director: Edgar Wright Writer: Edgar Wright Stars: Ansel Elgort, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm
*I thought of this pun during the film, then was disappointed to discover Edgar Wright had already used it for an event he curated at the BFI. GREAT MINDS is what I say. It’s not stealing. Really.
Synopsis: “A talented, young getaway driver (Ansel Elgort) relies on the beat of his personal soundtrack to be the best in the game. But after being coerced into working for a crime boss (Kevin Spacey), he must face the music when a doomed heist threatens his life, love and freedom.”
Sometimes you go into a cinema showing with your expectations so high you inwardly know you’re sabotaging what you’re about to watch. I LOVE Edgar Wright. Everything he has done to date has been funny, clever, witty and all with an unmistakably Edgar Wright feel. You can spot his hyper-pop, music-loving, rapid-fire style a mile off, and that’s not an easy feat. He’s also read my blog, so that clearly means he’s a man of taste.
Here comes the but… I found myself mildly disappointed in Baby Driver. The reviews from friends who’d seen previews were glowing. In a they’d-bought-the-soundtrack-and-were-champing-at-the-bit-to-see-it-a-second-time kind of glowing. In a summer that has so far has given us stinkers like Pirates 5 (I can’t even be bothered to check if that’s the correct number, that’s how much I care about the Pirates of the Caribbean films). Transformers: The Last Knight and The Mummy reboot, it seemed no Rotten Tomatoes score would edge over 30%. Baby Driver appeared like ray of light beaming down on the cinematic universe sewage. An original film with a great soundtrack, great cast and director with a lot to prove.
The opening 20 minutes are stunning. From the tinnitus that accompanies the studio logo and first few frames, to the carefully choreographed ballet of the opening heist, to Baby grabbing a coffee and singing along while the lyrics play out in graffiti and signs on the street behind him, this is an all-time great start to a film. Every step, every shot, every extra conveys something. It’s clever, it’s cool and it filled me with joy. I was fully prepared for Baby Driver to instantly go into my top ten films of all time. However it just didn’t quite keep up that glorious early pace.
We start the film firmly in Baby’s world, witnessing events from his point of view, from the glorious heist set to Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s ‘Bellbottoms’ (if you don’t own it already you should check out Orange) to the charming scene with his foster father Joseph demanding his peanut butter be spread right to the edges.
By the time Baby has witnessed the first on-screen death (there have been so many previous heists the assumption is this isn’t the first one there has been) the pace starts to slow. We start seeing how the world sees Baby and the initial joy starts to fade. No longer do we have Baby singing and dancing, instead we’re given his passive facade behind shades, looking increasingly moody and uncomfortable with the situation he has become trapped in, leading to a dramatic and tense conclusion.
The music and the visuals are so much fun, and the film really could have been dubbed ‘Car Car Land’ (see above for credit to Edgar Wright) for it’s marriage of car chases and classic musical elements, but it was the narrative which let it down a little for me.
The romance between Baby and Debora (Lily James) is a wonderful hybrid of John Hughes and Quentin Tarantino. Baby’s relationship with Joseph (CJ Jones) is sweet and touching. There is something about his interactions with the criminal gang of Doc (Kevin Spacey on fine Spacey-esque form) which just didn’t quite ring true.
The female characters were also somewhat underwritten. Debora is very charming, but she very much falls into the good old manic pixie dream girl trope, and Darling (Eliza Gonzalez) could be summed up as ‘hot drug-addict, lapdancer and wife’. Some of the decisions the characters make also seem to be somewhat pulled out of a hat. But then I guess heist films aren’t subtle, so maybe I am asking too much for the characters to be given nuance or subtlety when so much of the film is so very loud, and extended backstories would undoubtedly have slowed the pace.
Of special note is the fact that Jon Hamm somehow remains attractive in the role of Buddy, Darling’s husband, despite the dodgy haircut and neck tattoos. He also seems to be having the time of his life playing the role, which makes it a joy to watch.
Baby Driver is a fun, fast-paced, popcorn flick that shows Edgar Wright is a director at the height of his game (and clearly has a kick-ass music collection), the narrative just tends to rely a little too heavily on familiar tropes when it could have been as original and exiting as the audio and visuals.
8 out of 10
Synopsis: “The story of a young Englishman, Philip (Claflin) who plots revenge against his mysterious, beautiful cousin, Rachel (Weisz), believing that she murdered his guardian. But his feelings become complicated as he finds himself falling under the beguiling spell of her charms.”
The director of Notting Hill brings us this fresh take on Daphne Du Maurier’s dark thriller My Cousin Rachel. The book had previously been brought to life in 1952, just a year after the publication of the source novel, in a lavish affair starring Richard Burton and Olivia De Havilland which, while not quite reaching the heights of fame of other Du Maurier adaptations Rebecca and Don’t Look Now, was considered a cinematic success and was nominated for 4 academy awards. To attempt another adaptation could be seen as a bold move, but Michell and team do bring a breath of fresh air to the story.
The story itself is not so much of a whodunnit, but rather a ‘did she do it?’ as we take Philip’s perspective in attempting to unravel the true story of his guardian’s death.
During the early scenes of the film we only hear about the mysterious Rachel through letters and gossip, she comes into Philip’s life not with the bang and confrontation he had been expecting, but with an understated entrance that means our first view of her is silhouetted against the moon, her back to a window. Rather than the monster we are led to expect, Rachel is quiet, funny and warm, with the household’s army of dogs following her about loyally from the moment she arrives.
As Philip’s infatuation grows, Rachel remains a mystery. She seems genuine in her affections for her departed husband Ambrose (the ‘great family resemblance’ is achieved by Claflin playing both roles) but why does she keep plying Philip with that odd herbal tea…?
Weisz plays Rachel with great skill, with Michell seeming to lead our expectations one way as a single glance leads us another. Rachel seems decidedly modern and at odds with the stifling societal expectations exhibited by all those around her. Indeed the fact that she is a woman ‘of appetites’ is whispered knowingly by several of the supporting cast. However Weisz ensures Rachel flits between being charming and likeable then cold and standoffish, just enough to keep us asking ourselves if she could really be capable of murder.
Claflin plays Philip every inch as the ‘wet-nosed- puppy’ Rachel describes him, which does become grating at times. Seeing the world through Philip’s eyes is a somewhat disarming and claustrophobic experience, with the view sometimes becoming as blank and shallow as he seems.
Philip’s lack of experience with women is referenced several times, and indeed the view of Rachel we are given is one buried beneath his own misunderstanding and confusion, alongside a burning attraction and fascination. The whole film could be seen as a giant metaphor for modern cinema, as we struggle along with an old-fashioned male gaze trying to depict highly complex modern womanhood.
While the longing glances and candlelit encounters increase, the orchestral score swells, keeping true to the genre. Other melodramatic tropes abound, from the waves crashing on the shore to the string of pearls breaking and scattering down the stairs.
The film may seem a little slow for some tastes, but the many threads of the story are drawn together in a deft web for the final act. Audiences have been discussing their view of Rachel for over 50 years, and this won’t change that, but ultimately My Cousin Rachel is a well-made period melodrama with an interesting modern twist.
7 out of 10
Director: Ken Loach Writer: Paul Laverty (screenplay)
Stars: Dave Johns, Hayley Squires, Sharon Percy
Ken Loach has long been a fearsome and tireless campaigner for political change, giving a voice to those in society who might otherwise be overlooked, through films which merge drama and reality. When ‘I, Daniel Blake’ won the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film Loach took the opportunity to thank the Academy for endorsing the truth of the film “which hundreds and thousands of people in this country know, that the most vulnerable and poorest are treated by the Government with a callous brutality that is disgraceful”. ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is the best kind of cinema, one that entertains but that could also enact social change.
Written by long-time collaborator Paul Laverty (The Wind that Shake the Barley, My Name is Joe), I, Daniel Blake focuses on the life of 59 year old Daniel. Daniel is a carpenter, living in Newcastle, who has recently had a series of heart problems that have meant his doctors have ordered him to stay off work. Having worked in manual labour his whole life Daniel find the transition difficult and finds himself having to rely on help from the State to see him through. The film follows Daniel in his battle to negotiate the welfare system and keep himself going.
Along his journey he meets up with Katie (Hayley Squires) a single mother to 2 children, who has had to move out of London when the benefit caps meant they could no longer afford to live anywhere other than a one bedroom homeless hostel. Wanting some space and freedom for her family (with her son displaying some worrying behaviours) she has taken the plunge and moved away from everything she knows to give her son and daughter a better quality of life. Now desperate to be able to go back to college Katie tries to keep up appearances for her children as her life slowly unravels.
Both Daniel and Katie find themselves at the mercy of a benefits system which seeks to meet arbitrary sanctions targets, driving them both beyond poverty and desperation and into very dark territory. They form a kind of surrogate family and help support each other in their darkest times.
The film looks at the benefit system through the lens of a country which has been brain-washed by a media intent on propagating the idea of the deserving and undeserving poor and is unflinching in it’s portrayal of a system set up solely around numbers and absent of humanity.
As one of those hundreds and thousands of people who has seen the cruelty of the benefits system I can also testify to Loach’s truth here. I have seen first-hand the arbitrary decisions that are made in order to fulfil an imaginary quota of ‘undeserving’ poor which in turn leads to callous abandonment of those in our society who are the most vulnerable. The tale told here is not one that has been exaggerated for dramatic purpose; this is happening every day.
However, if politics isn’t your thing, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is a masterful piece of film-making, as you would expect from someone of Loach’s standing. Despite the subject matter it never lectures, allowing the viewer to be caught up in the story at hand. It manages to balance warmth, humour and hope against the bleakest of backdrops and makes you truly care about Daniel, Katie and all those who have found themselves either trapped in or cast out by the system.
A rare mix of the passionate and human, the gut-wrenching and the comedic, ‘I, Daniel Blake’ is an absolute must see and one of the most important films of recent years.
9.5 out of 10
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.
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