Free Fire has a simple premise – an arms deal goes wrong. Tetchy people with itchy trigger fingers lead to guns being shot when it really wasn’t necessary, as everything was almost about to go smoothly, despite gun dealer Vernon (District 9‘s Sharlto Copley) supplying the wrong type of weapon.
Set in 1970s Boston (but filmed in Brighton!), the men and woman – yes, a sole female in Justine (Room‘s Brie Larson) – meet up just outside a warehouse and go in to seal the deal. Alas, junkie Stevo (Sam Riley) has done something he shouldn’t, and his uncle Frank (Michael Smiley), the ‘Baggage Handler’, remonstrating with him won’t put things right for the person he wronged. Having a third party get involved in the bullet ballet complicates matters further, and this all sometimes takes place while a very ’70s in-car 8-track cartridge blares out John Denver‘s Annie’s Song.
The first time I saw this, I felt there was a bit of a lull in the middle where the shooting went on just a bit too long. Perhaps it was me being a bit tired at the time, as it was a late night screening – ending just after midnight – and I had been up since 6.30am for work. Second time round, the lull felt shorter, and the second half felt more consistent, so additional viewings certainly help.
First time round, there were also one or two moments where it was too dark and I was wondering who was doing the shooting in that particular scene, even though you were meant to be able to see them. Second time, it’s still not 100% clear who’s shooting in which direction once or twice, but as the extras show, director/co-writer Ben Wheatley knows exactly what’s going where, so you can still go with it as the slight confusion you might feel is mirrored by some characters when, late on, the ‘bullet ballet’ has been going on so long that they’re losing track themselves! 🙂
Aside from that, everyone’s on-point in this comedy, particularly Copley, whose tries to take the lead and instructs others – in his South African accent – to “Vern and Learn” and “Watch and Vern”. Michael Smiley is brilliant as always, at one moment retorting to another character: “You want sympathy? Look in the dictionary between ‘shit’ and ‘syphilis'”
There was also one thing I’ve never seen in a film before, and I won’t say who it happens to, or what comes after this, but I’ll still wrap a spoiler heading round this…
There’s been comparisons with Reservoir Dogs, some saying that it’s like the final shootout stretched out over 90 minutes. I can see where they’re going with that – especially with one particular moment (you’ll know it when you see it), but it’s a film in its own right, and a bloody good one at that.
After Wheatley’s bizarre but mostly engaging High-Rise, Free Fire is certainly a more accessible film. In its second week at the cinema, despite only showing once a day at my local Odeon in the Trafford Centre – and at 10.15pm, the room was certainly packed! Thankfully, I always look to sit at the back of the front section of seating, whilst everyone else went to the rear. I do that to avoid the chatterboxes.
Ben Wheatley should be given the job of directing the next James Bond movie, and Sharlto Copley should be the villain, with Michael Smiley as his right-hand man! PLEASE make this happen!!
The film is presented in the theatrical 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio and in 1080p high definition and looks as stunning as you’d expect from a modern movie, even though it heads back to the ’70s for its setting.
The sound is in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and it’s – literally – an absolute blast. Gunshots happen all over the speakers. You get every last shot, rebound shot, plus where the bullets meet their targets.
The extras are as follows:
- Audio commentary: Normally, I leave this part of the extras to the end as I generally never get round to listening to them, but for a 90-minute film where every last bullet shot is clearly deftly-choreographed, ideally, I’d be wanting to hear how each and every one was composed, also allowing for the fact that you’ve got to keep track of where everyone is in a large room…
As I type, I’ve heard the first 15 minutes after the shoot-out begins, and they cover some what I’m after, but all too often they’re just giggling about how mad the whole premise is and what each cast member has got up to, as well as the fact they’re shooting almost as close as Leslie Nielsen was in Police Squad when he was shooting back at someone on the other side of a bin(!) Of course, in this film, they at least make it look like there IS some distance between them 😉
- Making Of (15:57): One of the most interesting parts of this is that they show drawings of how the room is mapped out. I’d have loved the occasional shot like this in the movie itself, but then maybe that wasn’t done in order to keep the claustrophobic feeling it sometimes gives you, as well as not allowing you to second guess who’ll take a bullet next. So if that’s the case, I can understand that.
- Interviews: One with Ben Wheatley (4:35), and one with both Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley (5:03). Both are standard Q&A pieces where the Q is on a caption just before the answer. These are mainly done if programmes like BBC Breakfast want cheap filler, but they don’t feel in any way natural, so I’m not a fan of this style.
- Audio description: Does exactly what it says on the tin.
The menu mixes static shots of the characters with a portion of the ’70s-style theme, there are subtitles in English only, and a a bog-standard 12 chapters. I prefer one every 5 minutes, which would come to 18.
Running time: 91 minutes
Released: August 7th 2017
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1
Disc Format: BD50
Director: Ben Wheatley
Producer: Andrew Starke
Screenplay: Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley
Music: Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury
Vernon: Sharlto Copley
Chris: Cillian Murphy
Justine: Brie Larson
Frank: Michael Smiley
Ord: Armie Hammer
Stevo: Sam Riley
Bernie: Enzo Cilenti
Martin: Babou Ceesay
Gordon: Noah Taylor
Harry: Jack Reynor
Jimmy: Mark Monero
Howie: Patrick Bergin
Leary: Tom Davis
Telephone Sales (voice): Sara Dee
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.