#LFF 2016: Free Fire review

A field. A tower block. And now a disused warehouse. Over his last three films, Ben Wheatley has been perfecting the knack of a single-location drama. In the case of his new film Free Fire, Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump have shawn away the wooly political commentary and psychedelic sojourns in favour of something far more lean and propulsive. The result is carnage; a dazzlingly choreographed 90-minute shoot-out that feels like a bloody, slapstick rework of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs.

It might seem unlikely that something so narratively simplistic and ultimately childish could sustain its runtime but the chaos and comedy of the haphazard gunplay is such that it only suffers from a handful of lulls. Otherwise it's all-star cast fire off round after round, each sustaining countless hits, crawling around in the dust and provoking each other across the warehouse. Laurie Rose's cinematography purposely obscures the geography of the debris-laden locale, so audiences are never sure where the ricocheting bullets are heading next, or indeed who they were intended for. At one stage a character cries "I've forgotten whose side I'm on" and it's perfectly plausible.

But plausibility is hardly Free Fire's stock in trade. This is a chance for Wheatley and Jump to make the most of their love of dark comedy while lampooning gun laws - that the film is their first set in the US is telling - by effectively giving them to a dozen unsupervised children. Tension is high from the first minute this array of egoist buffoons get in a room together for a gun-deal in 1970s Boston. On one side are IRA buyers (Cillian Murphy and Wheatley regular Michael Smiley), dealmaker Justine (Brie Larson) and their two goons (Sam Riley, Enzo Client). On the other are the seller (a ridiculous Sharlto Copley), his associate (Babou Ceesay), their two goons (Noah Taylor, Jack Reynor) and the fence (Armie Hammer).

The deal always seems on the rocks with Murphy and Copley strutting around and showing off the size of their assault rifles. While some of the dialogue feels a little clunky, that fits perfectly with this muster of peacocks and you soon get used to the rhythm. Once the first shot is fired things descend quickly into mayhem and the screenplay's dialogue hardly lets up between all the bullets. Wheatley is not averse to targeting the lowest common denominator in his comedy and the cast are all equally game with Copley a particular highlight - his brand of silliness fitting the bill perfectly. There's perhaps little of Free Fire that will linger too long in the memory after the credits roll, but there's still fun to be had.

The BFI London Film Festival takes place from 5-16 October. Book your tickets at bfi.org.uk/lff.

Ben Nicholson | @BRNicholson


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