Hot Fuzz tonally set the benchmark for me for Action Comedies, as every other action comedy film just does not seem to get the correct blend. For whatever reason, Hot Fuzz had this blend perfected and it’s never aged since its 2007 release.
Enter Free Fire, the trailers seemed have this balance tuned to perfection, which also gave me that sense of apprehension when going in and whether this carried over into the film. But regardless, it has to be said that Ben Wheatley has been on an incredible rise since Kill List, and he seems to be showing a diverse range of talents behind the camera.
One thing he has nailed for Free Fire is the perfect running time of 90 minutes, but I could have easily sat in and watched another hour of this film as the narrative unfolds. It’s not often that nowadays an action film takes place in just one setting, with the big blockbusters jetting to various locations before reducing them to rubble. And that’s become a bit boring and well, farcical.
Ben Wheatley has managed to bring some normality back to the action genre with Free Fire, but it’s the character’s nuanced movements that signify this. Justine’s (Brie Larson) trip as the enter the abandoned warehouse, or Gordon (Noah Taylor) getting a splinter during an incredibly tense moment during the gun deal, really give Free Fire that sense of reality. These directions are what is brilliant about this movie, as you wince with them at the glass being stuck in the hand, or getting a needle embedded in a palm.
And to carry on with this grounded approach take on the action genre, the gunshots are excruciatingly loud as they echo and ping around the empty warehouse. Wheatley has managed to inject some life into the action genre that goes against the humdrum affair of tearing cities to the ground in the name to protect civilians.
Peculiarly though, Free Fire doesn’t have a straightforward villain. You have some assholes in an empty warehouse, but no one is the standalone antagonist of this film. I believe this is done intentionally to give the characters more of a chance to express themselves in their own way, from the chipper Ord (Armie Hammer) to the apprentice-like Harry (Jack Reynor). But the screen-time that is allowed with each of the characters, as they try to outgun and outsmart the others in the room is excellent. But amidst all the anarchy that does ensue between the two sides, a confusion arises especially as Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) screams “I forgot whose side I’m on”.
It has to be said Free Fire becomes an incredibly funny film, with the characters interactions with each other. Much of the comedy is driven through Sharlto Copley’s Vern and his ego is just impressive. His comedic gestures and one-liners are just brilliant, including “Just watch and Vern”. But there doesn’t seem to be that reliance on the comedy within this film, as it just flows as the narrative naturally progresses.
It seems as though Wheatley has hit the sweet spot when it comes to the blend of action and comedy in Free Fire as all it all seems to flow together and enclosed within this warehouse space, which is just fantastic. It’s almost as though you can feel the dirt underneath the fingernails and feel the agonising shots that are placed in the characters calves and shoulders. But this displacement and not-very-accurate shooting is effective, because as I mentioned previously, it carries on that sense of reality, but still has that twinge when the shots do find their target.
Free Fire is worlds apart from High Rise, which really shows a depth in the talent that Wheatley possesses. The narrative of a gun deal gone wrong really works, especially as the characters spill off into different areas of warehouse. There isn’t one true shining star of the film, but rather a collaborative effort from all involved as they actually interact with the story and surroundings. I could’ve happily sat and watched another hour of this film as the chemistry that is on-screen is just enigmatic and brilliant to watch. I think Free Fire will not age, much like the aforementioned Hot Fuzz.