One of the hottest headliners at this year's SXSW Film Festival was Ben Wheatley's action-comedy shootout flick, Free Fire. Unfortunately, the crowds were too overwhelming, so I took my movie-watching schedule in a different direction that day. But now, a month after missing out on it's United States premiere, I nestled in for an advance screening of Free Fire and enjoyed Wheatley's most simple and cohesive narrative to date.
In late 1970s Boston, Justine (Brie Larson) brokers a weapons-swap in an abandoned warehouse between Northern Ireland fighters in search of assault rifles to bring back home, and a local gang looking to unload illegal arms for cash. But after members of each of these groups recognize each other from a falling out the previous night, tensions begin to mount and eventually erupt into a chaotic gun battle for survival. With some alliances stronger then others, and a back-stabbing group of rifled snipers entering the fray, it's a wonder if anyone will make it out of this mess alive.
While I'm mainly familiar with director Ben Wheatley's two most recent works, High-Rise and A Field in England, he's definitely a polarizing filmmaker who possesses clear talents. In this upcoming title, Wheatley trades uniqueness for convention and sets out to deliver a fun and energetic action-comedy, something he accomplishes with remarkable ease. Co-writer Amy Jump and Wheatley team up to mold an assortment of quirky characters that add a zest to this cacophony of gunfire and madness. Sharlto Copely provides a majority of Free Fire's encompassing comedy, while Cillian Murphy truly transforms his Northern Irish character into a film-favorite by giving soul to an open-ended creation from the writers. Co-star Armie Hammer also shines in a cocky and arrogant role that always suits him extremely well. And just as the numbness of gunfire sound effects begins to take its toll, Wheatley quickly wraps up his work with a rather bittersweet conclusion. Yet, once I thought I had the finale figured out, one that seemed remarkably satisfying within the confines of my own imagination, we're thrown a curve-ball that feels cheap in the moment, but more acceptable in retrospect. Free Fire isn't a must-watch, but it's certainly an entertaining piece of action-comedy that doesn't disappoint.