Sunday, 16 October 2016
Things begin well, as a roster of immediately well-drawn characters converge on the warehouse to carry out a weapons deal: Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are IRA heavies buying guns from Sharlto Copley's unpredictable Vernon and Armie Hammer's smooth, cautious Ord; Justine (Brie Larson) is the go-between; Sam Riley, Enzo Cilenti, Noah Taylor and Jack Reynor play the grunts whose only job is to drive the guns and money into and out of the warehouse. Wheatley is now at a stage where he can command a terrific cast like this, and it's that cast that saves Free Fire from monotony at several stages throughout its brief running time. Smiley and Hammer send sparks flying with every antagonistic exchange, Larson is amusingly weary as the woman adrift in a sea of testosterone, and Copley is predictably hilarious - for the first half at least, until his schtick begins to wear a little thin.
Undeniably stylish (the costumes are to die for) and entertainingly performed, Free Fire is a noisy blast of fun whose echo fades out even before the credits roll. The smell of cordite and the feel of polyester are stronger sensations than anything provided by the story, and in the context of Ben Wheatley's undeniably remarkable career, that seems a shame. He's absolutely still a director to watch, but at this year's London Film Festival two other, less glorified films over which he's had a clear influence - Prevenge and The Ghoul - have burned far brighter than Free Fire.