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Some screenshots from the "Free Fire":
Year of Release: 2016
Genre of the Movie: Comedy
Size of the Movie: 3,11 GB
Film Director: Ben Wheatley
After the one-two punch of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the bottom shelves of everyone’s local video store were filled with desperate Tarantino knock-offs from directors hoping a similar formula of violence, wit and songs from the 60s would see them crowned the next film-making wunderkind. As they started to thin out, we then saw the Guy Ritchie effect take its place with laboured gangster comedies dominating British cinema for far too long.
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Denzel Washington’s classic western hero is commandingly cool and supported by a rakish Chris Pratt, but there’s a great deal of waiting around for something to happen in Antoine Fuqua’s strenuously-topical western.
Given director Ben Wheatley’s pedigree, it’s something of a surprise to see his latest offering crash into this year’s Toronto film festival as a curious and disappointing amalgamation of the two. The director, who has become one of the UK’s most unique talents with diverse and daring projects such as Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England hit something of a pothole at last year’s festival with the divisive JG Ballard adaptation High-Rise. But even that was an admirable failure, full of style and ambition, albeit caught up in a swirling and pretentious mess. His latest, Free Fire, eschews the strangeness of his previous work and makes a bold bid for a wider audience. But while it’s undoubtedly his most accessible film to date, he’s lost something crucial along the way.
The film takes place over just one night and in just one building; a warehouse in 70s Massachusetts. It’s the location of an arms deal and brings together an unlikely group of players (a cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, longtime Wheatley collaborator Michael Smiley, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley) all with varying agendas. After a testy start, things go from bad to really bad in an instant and a bloody standoff ensues with shots firing, voices raising and people dying.
From the start, it’s clear what Free Fire wants to be seen as: a future cult classic, its poster adorning the walls of grubby student bedrooms and regular boisterous special screenings filled with obsessive fans shouting out iconic quotes while dressed in character. For a while, it almost works. Despite being shot in Brighton, the film feels authentically of its time and place, especially given that it’s Wheatley’s first “American” film and some of the lines are admittedly memorable (“Vernon was misdiagnosed as a child genius and never got over it”).
But once shots are fired, the film descends into a repetitive orgy of bullets and bad jokes. The constant shooting is confusingly choreographed with frenetic camerawork annoying rather than impressing and the sheer noise of the film begins to have a repellent effect. The squabbling between the characters is clearly supposed to be snappy but there’s a sharpness missing, with humour broad when it should be biting. The direction is also rather workmanlike, a shock given Wheatley’s back catalogue, and there’s an overriding sensation that this is his small sacrifice for the mainstream. One has to give him credit though for going down this route, rather than succumbing to the world of the franchise.
The cast try their best, with Sam Riley’s odious junkie a standout, but they’re hampered with ciphers that lack the distinctive idiosyncrasies of Tarantino and even Ritchie characters (Sharlto Copley’s one defining characteristic is that he’s South African and has a funny accent). There’s something lacking, a touch of the bizarre or the perverse, with just one particularly nasty death to serve as a reminder that you’re watching a Ben Wheatley film.
If Free Fire is Wheatley’s bid for the multiplex, then he could have made a far worse attempt, but when compared with his previous work, it’s disappointingly vanilla, failing to progress his considerable talents and reminding us all to begrudgingly respect the cult of Tarantino.
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Free Fire YouTube trailer:
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