Hidden Gem: Free Fire

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Contemporary British filmmaker Ben Wheatley could be described as an eclectic and experimental director, with his filmography ranging from dystopian drama High-Rise (2015) to historical psychological horror A Field in England (2013). Over the years, Wheatley’s films have been met with a mixed level of critical success, but one that has always stood out to me amongst the variety of his work is the action-fuelled comedy Free Fire from 2016.

Set primarily in a Boston warehouse in 1978, Free Fire explores the violence that occurs when two rival gangs come together to exchange a briefcase of money for a cache of guns. However, things are not quite as they seem and events soon spiral out of control. Wheatley’s film boasts an incredible cast, with the likes of Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, and Brie Larson playing key parts. Sharlto Copley, Jack Reynor and Michael Smiley also appear in supporting roles. The range of the cast is an important element of Free Fire, as the difference in backgrounds and personality adds another layer of tension to the storyline as the growing animosity between factions and individual characters develops. You can almost feel the hostility building in the atmosphere of the contained setting.

Written by Wheatley and frequent collaborator (/spouse) Amy Jump, the film’s screenplay proves that revolving a narrative around a singular setting can still be both exciting and gripping. The potential monotony that can ensue from such a restricted scope is completely avoided. Free Fire uses fast-paced dialogue and slick camerawork to keep the audience involved, exploring its setting in a way that invests you in the bloody world of gang rivalry.

Free Fire plays on the concept of a real time narrative; the film’s story is set entirely over the course of one turbulent night. Wheatley makes it feel as though the incidents on screen are taking place in front of the audience’s eyes, with information revealed gradually as the characters engage in naturalistic conversations. Despite having an almost all-male cast, Larson’s portrayal of intermediary Justine stands out as a strong feminist role. Throughout, Justine appears to be treated as inferior by the stereotypically masculine gang members whose depictions match our expectations. But, as the intrigue develops, it becomes clear that Justine can stand her ground in the surrounding chaos. If you’re looking for an action-packed thriller that is likely to make you laugh as well as gasp, Free Fire might just be the one for you.

Watch the trailer for Free Fire below:

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third-year film student & records/live exec 20/21

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