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HomeArts & CultureFilm review: Laughs and carnage – Ben Wheatley's Free Fire might be the most fun you can have in a cinema

Film review: Laughs and carnage – Ben Wheatley's Free Fire might be the most fun you can have in a cinema

Free Fire

Director: Ben Wheatley

Starring: Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Michael Smiley, Armie Hammer

Four stars

British director Ben Wheatley returns with Free Fire, his sixth feature film and probably his most high profile to date.

The cast includes Brie Larson, the Oscar-winning star of Room, District 9’s Sharlto Copley, and Batman Begins and Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy, while the list of executive producers is headed by Hollywood legend Martin Scorsese.

Despite a cast list spanning three continents, a production team with a distinctly Hollywood flavour, and a premise that is undeniably American – an arms deal in a disused factory goes wrong and carnage ensues – Wheatley has made the movie equivalent of that most English of condiments, Marmite: in other words, you will either love it or hate it. This was clear from our conversations with audience members at the movie’s regional premiere at Diff on December 11.

It is understandable why some viewers might not be impressed. There is nothing remotely original about this film – the word “derivative” could have been invented for it. Imagine if the climactic stand-off from Quentin Tarantino’s breakout Reservoir Dogs had been stretched out for 90 minutes and scripted by the writers of TV comedy Little Britain, and you basically have Free Fire in a nutshell.

It is a solid hour and a half of non-stop gunfire, explosions and bloodshed. It should be terrible. However, the always on-point husband-and-wife writing team of Wheatley and Amy Jump, somehow successfully elevate the movie from dumb action territory into the realms of high comedy amid the blood and guts.

Most of the film takes place in a single location, the factory, but thanks to Wheatley’s long, continuous, sweeping shots, and the performances – in particular Copley’s retro-suited South African would-be Al Capone, Vern, and Michael Smiley’s recovering alcoholic Irish thug, Frank – the whole thing seem somehow much more expansive than a simple, confined-space shoot-out.

It is not uncommon in heist movies for the gang to have one useless member – almost everybody is a contender for the most incompetent gangster – they are the “Keystone Criminals”.

The film is loud, fast-moving, and utterly ludicrous on the surface, but let the sheer ridiculousness wash over you and you will be in for one of the most entertaining hour and a halfs you are likely to spend in a cinema.

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