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Free Fire. A Review
Ben Wheatley has been a bit of an obsession of mine for the last....lets say two years. I heard about this movie called High Rise, and I don't think I have ever seen a movie divide the community so equally. From critics to casual movie fans the opinions were split, I decided I had to see this movie. When it popped up on Netflix I watched it immediately, well I watched the first 20 or so minutes immediately and then put it down and decided to come back to it. After that it took me about 2-3 more sit downs to fully watch High Rise and let me tell you it is a strange experience. I can see where both arguments fit in, High Rise is a weird movie that feels like it was made for Ben Wheatley and a select few others. Without giving much away High Rise is a surreal look at society in which the tenants of a tower block descend into chaos as they become less connected with the outside world. I do not recommend High Rise to everyone, as I said it can be a difficult movie to watch and understand, but Ben Wheatley's follow up project Free Fire allows a more casual audience to enjoy his cinematic style.
Free Fire drops the viewer into 1978 Boston where members of the IRA are preparing for an arms deal. They follow American intermediaries Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer) into an abandoned warehouse where the deal is set to take place. Other than a few rough interactions with the arms dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley) things are going well, until members of both groups recognize each other and decide to deal with some unfinished business. Soon after that the pieces get brought out and bullets start flying, and the abandoned warehouse becomes a shooting gallery. Witty banter and flesh woulds dominate the rest of the movie as the various members of both groups try to take cover and escape with their lives, and the suitcase of money that lays in the center of the crossfire. There is not much in the way of story structure in Free Fire. You can throw out the normal Joseph Campbell hero's journey template here, it won't be needed.
Free Fire boasts quite a cast of up and coming and experienced actors, and has a great mix of different backgrounds for each character. A large amount of the cast are from across the pond with Irish, South African and British actors being represented. Along with Larson, Hammer and Copley we get strong performances from Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Inception) Jack Reynor (Sing Street, Macbeth) Michael Smiley (The Lobster, Rogue One) and Sam Riley (Control, Maleficent). Free Fire demands that it's ensemble cast stands strong and I am happy to say that it does. All the characters are unique and likable in their own way. From Ord, the slick talking pot smoking intermediary to Stevo, the junky screw up with an attitude problem, these characters are not only fun, they are a blast. With the plot the way it is, the wealth of interesting characters can really take off as we don't have to follow a central character, and Free Fire sets itself apart again.
Expanding on why the characters are so important, the plot of Free Fire is pretty bare bones. A deal went wrong, there is a suitcase of money in the middle of the room and crates of guns all around. That is about as much plot as you are going to get, but Free Fire proves that plot can be secondary when the writing is so good and the characters are so vivid. The beginning of the movie does a great job of introducing the characters and getting the viewer into this very niche world. After the first 15 minutes of the movie I felt like I had seen all of these characters for an hour and the more that get added in throughout the movie the more fun it becomes. Some of the relationships were started that night and some have been standing for years and both are evident from the first time they meet. It is nice to see this kind of attention paid to characters and not letting them become cut outs of simple archetypes.
I'm sure Free Fire was not an easy movie to make. Just from an editing perspective it must have been a nightmare. Instead of doing a poor job and making a sub standard movie, Ben Wheatley and Co. embrace the challenges of making a movie like this and use them to elevate the product. When the shit hits the fan there is a lot going on and it could have been difficult to show the viewer exactly what is happening like so many action movies want to do with a shaky cam. Free Fire embraces the fray and while you get a bit overwhelmed by everything that is happening, so are the characters. There are moments when a dull moment hits and members from either side start taking stock of the remaining members of their team, while throwing out a few insults to try to get the other team to tip their hand. Every time this happened I did my own little checklist of the remaining pieces on the board and every time not only could I tell you who remained, but where they were in the room, this is another brilliant move of film making to get the viewer to feel like they are involved as much as the characters on screen are. This is what High Rise was missing, it served to alienate people who would not understand or immediately like it. Free Fire welcomes all and puts you on quite a cinematic ride. Free Fire is still a bit more exclusive than your average movie though, it is a film made for fans of film and the like. That being said I think people will still get a kick out of it even though your cinephile friends will probably enjoy it more and annoy you with their opinions on Free Fires story structure and cinematography. All these things together add up to a great movie, and in my opinion it stands with Logan, John Wick: Chapter 2 and Get Out as the best movies released this year.