Free Fire | Ben Wheatley lets the bullets fly for a red-hot shoot-'em up thriller

Free Fire Brie Larson

Free Fire Brie Larson

After producing a fizzling squib with last year’s High-Rise, Ben Wheatley is back, all guns blazing, for the darkly comic Free Fire, a stripped-down, ferociously bonkers action thriller about an arms deal that goes appallingly wrong.

From the off, it is clear that Wheatley and regular co-writer Amy Jump (Sightseers, Kill List, A Field in England) are out to have fun. The setting is the 1970s, the decade of wide lapels and even wider moustaches. The place, a deserted warehouse in Boston, where IRA men Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley are aiming to buy a stash of guns from South African gun runner Sharlto Copley and his ex-Panther associate (Babou Cessay).

Free Fire Armie Hammer Brie Larson Cillian Murphy Sam Riley Michael Smiley

"Nicked or maimed or worse"

Local intermediaries Armie Hammer and Brie Larson are on hand to smooth the deal, but things are tetchy from the start. Two hot-headed underlings get involved, and the transaction erupts into violent mayhem. Soon bullets are flying every which way. As these are gangs that can’t shoot straight, they rarely hit their targets; but so much ammunition is being sprayed around that it is just a matter of time before everyone gets nicked, or maimed or worse.

Ostentatiously plotless, Free Fire is both reverent genre exercise and cocky parody. Wheatley and Jump borrow from Peckinpah and steal from Tarantino. The warehouse standoff is pure Reservoir Dogs, and so is the cheesy listening soundtrack, with John Denver used for ironic effect where Tarantino used Stealers Wheel. The characters tend to the cartoonish, but while Wheatley and Jump largely deny them backstories, they do give them some very snappy putdowns and insults to trade. Strip away the sound and the fury and, yes, Free Fire is very much a B-movie. But it is a stylish, smart and wildly entertaining one.

Certificate 15. Runtime 119 mins. Director Ben Wheatley

Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.