Ben Wheatley’s ‘Free Fire’ is his most entertaining work yet

The fact that it’s set in a single, closed location occupied by a group of unsavory criminals may invite comparisons to Quentin Tarantino’s breakout hit Reservoir Dogs, but Ben Wheatley’s new film has none of the former’s clever, snappy dialogues or colorful, memorable characters. What it has in common with Tarantino’s film, however, is its inventiveness and oddball characters.

Wheatley is among that rare handful of directors who never makes the same film again. Every film he has made so far has been different. Wheatley experiments with different narrative styles, unusual themes and sometimes mixes these themes in a way that no one else has done before. His latest film is no exception, even though it’s his most entertaining, straightforward and easily accessible film yet.

The plot is simple: Two groups meet at an abandoned warehouse to carry out an arms deal, but things go awfully wrong when a situation which has nothing to do with their deal goes out of control, and a gunfight ensues. The characters then become unwittingly involved while trying to get out of the warehouse in one piece. In a Ben Wheatley film, you don’t expect things to end in a conventional manner, and things can get very nasty. It’s a class case of how inviting the wrong people to a party can royally fuck things up.

Although not as unsettling as some of his earlier films, expect a bit of grotesque violence – by now a trademark of Wheatley’s – to show up sooner or later; it’s inevitable. But it’s mostly comical and the level of mischief and dark humor that follows everything evokes the earlier stuff of Guy Ritchie. At times, the film feels like the lovechild of Tarantino and Ritchie. It’s essentially a 60-minute long gunfight – preceded by 30 minutes of arms dealing conversation – interrupted by short breaks.

The mayhem is pointless and not driven by a purpose, but that’s exactly the point Wheatley is trying to make. The characters do get a purpose later on, but that’s something they improvise. Despite not being a character-driven film and despite the immensity of the action overshadowing the characters doesn’t mean that the film provides no opportunity for at least a few of them to make quite an impression. The standout performers are Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley – each playing polar opposites.

The ever dependable Cillian Murphy doesn’t have much to do in the way of a great performance but I’ve never seen give him a bad performance ever. Just his presence is alone to make any film less boring. And Brie Larson is quite solid as the only female character in the film.This film is better enjoyed with an open mind, without reading too much into it – and I don’t think Wheatley intended it to be that sort of film. It’s his version of a shoot ‘em up action extravaganza, and he knows how to do it right. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes a big-budget blockbuster soon.

 

 

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