Now on Blu-ray: Ben Wheatley’s Crazy Shootout ‘Free Fire’

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Free Fire

Since breaking onto the scene with his breakout film, Kill List, Ben Wheatley has made a number of films that leave a certain set of cinephiles rapt with his violent tales while simultaneously offending the sensibilities of other film lovers. That divisive nature to Wheatley’s work continues with his latest film, Free Fire, which sees the British writer-director setting one of his films in America for the first time in his career. Locked and loaded, Wheatley’s Free Fire is an action-packed pitch-black comedy that skews America’s ridiculous gun culture and crafts a thriller that where violent actions have horrific consequences. Now Wheatley’s latest madcap piece of cinema lands on Blu-ray with guns a-blazin’.

It’s the late ‘70s in Boston and everyone has big hair and is covered in Polyester from head to toe. Frank (Michael Smiley) and Chris (Cillian Murphy) are two members of the IRA who have traveled to Boston to purchase machine guns for their ongoing fight with the British. The two drugged-up fuck-ups, Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley), are in tow to assist the IRA fighters when the deal is complete. Their liaisons for this deal are Justine (Brie Larson) and Ord (Armie Hammer), a former special ops soldier. The men with the guns for sale are led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley), a wildly flamboyant South African. In his corner is his trusted aide Martin (Babou Ceesay) and the duo of drivers Gordon (Noah Taylor) and Harry (Jack Reynor). The sale of deadly and illegal firearms is complicated because of a fight the night before involving Harry and Stevo, and once one gun is pulled, all guns are pulled.

Most movies of this nature, with two sets of gangs each armed to teeth, typically involve an almost consequence-free form of violence, a kind of gun-fu that sensationalizes the exchange of bullets. Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump don’t that with Free Fire. In one way or another, each of these gun-running criminals takes a bullet, and are hobbled by their wounds. It leads to a darkly comic form of shootout that defies expectations, with characters crawling on the dirty floor of the abandoned warehouse and searching for any kind of cover from the bullets flying over their heads. As the shootout goes on and on, the wounds mount and these characters each look like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant, beaten, bruised, and left with no recourse but to struggle and crawl for survival.

The special features on the Blu-ray of Free Fire feature audio commentary from director Ben Wheatley, who is always candid and fascinating when discussing his own work. The way he approaches these wounded characters is, in his own words, similar to that of shooting a car chase. There’s also a lengthy featurette about the making of Free Fire, covering the actors training with firearms to the way the director approached the geography of the film, making sure that there was a continuity between the various placements of these characters. In the making of featurette, there’s also a neat explanation of how one of the more shocking scenes was created entirely with practical effects, and how the director coaxed his star into a seemingly dangerous stunt by doing it himself first.

Free Fire has style and violent action to spare in another wild ride from Ben Wheatley, one that subverts all expectations with each bullet fired and each wound punctured. This can’t be called a crowd-pleasing movie as it’s takes its characters into some dark, violent places, and Wheatley simply refuses to allow the violence to lose its ugliness through cinematic style. Guns are at the heart of Free Fire, but the ghastly effects of each bullet fired are always on the mind of Ben Wheatley as each and every round fired has an impact on the characters and the barebones story. That alone makes Free Fire unlike any of its action movie brethren.

Free Fire
  • Overall Score


An action-packed shootout with style to spare, Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire is a darkly comic examination of America’s gun culture with a lengthy exchange of gun fire where every bullet has consequences.

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