TIFF 2016: Bullets Non-Stop in Ben Wheatley’s Action Film ‘Free Fire’

Ben Wheatley's Free Fire

The energy was palpable at the midnight world premiere of Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire last Thursday night. The famous Midnight Madness screenings at the Toronto Film Festival are known to be a fun event, with an enthusiastic crowd soaking up the energy of the late night festivities. No one could expect that the film that we were about to see would not only match the energy of the theater, but crank it all the way to 11. Dripping in 70’s camp, Free Fire tells a story of a costly gun transaction that goes south very quickly. For 90 minutes you are stuck in a filthy Boston warehouse with these characters who have one thing in mind – take the money used to purchase the guns and get the hell out of dodge. As guns are drawn, bullets start to fly, and lines get drawn, the absurdity of the situation sinks in and the film become disturbingly dark and hilarious.

At the beginning you have two very distinct sides. The group purchasing the guns and providing the money (which includes Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy) and the group selling the ammunition (which has a charming and heavily bearded Armie Hammer as the liaison). The scenes almost felt like watching a stage play, because the placement of the characters and how they interact with each other are so deliberate and purposeful. One of the best things about the Wheatley’s new film is that the storylines of each character intersects and intertwines with one another. As they continue to take each other out with bullets, they still manage to yell out dialogue that you could find at any school yard. When the suggestion to cease fire is brought up a character yells in an almost childlike fashion “It’s too late! I’ve been insulted!”

The film is shot so tightly, that the bullets feel like they are whizzing past your head (there was a moment I actually ducked, because I felt like I would get hit in the crossfire). The guns in the film are so loud and blaring, that I was expecting them to have a credit in the movie, because they are a character in themselves. The shoot-out is so well choreographed, because they really use every inch of the abandoned warehouse to the fullest extent. I would say it was like watching the most dangerous game of laser tag imaginable. Many others have brought up the scenes giving an homage to Reservoir Dogs, and I would have to agree. It has the same level of tension and confusion as the characters slowly start to unhinge; and the silliness of the first half counterbalances the extremely bloody and suspenseful second half.

There is a moment in Free Fire when a character stops shooting and says “I forgot which side I’m on.” This evoked a ton of laughter throughout the audience in the theater, because it was like he was reading our minds. Once the first shot is fired, all bets are off. You are strapped in a western-style shoot-em-up with a 70’s soundtrack that bridges the scenes until the final act. The film gave me everything I wanted and more. When I left the theater that night I felt like I had just gotten off a high speed rollercoaster and I was absolutely buzzing. This is the type of movie that should be watched with a group of people, because it really thrives off of energy and the ability to suspend disbelief. Free Fire is a big win for distributor A24 and a home run for Wheatley. A brilliantly executed action film that mustn’t be missed.

Erica’s TIFF Rating: 4.0 out of 5
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