The Mexican Standoff is a tried and tested storytelling trope; it’s a great way to build tension while maintaining the dialogue necessary to give exposition to the story. Normally, the standoff lasts for a short while before someone shoots or chickens out, leaving the other parties to complete their task. But can you keep the tension and other elements of this storytelling technique and translate it into an hour and a half film? That’s what Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire attempts to answer.
The entire plot of Free Fire reads like a more action-oriented Reservoir Dogs. Two IRA members travel to Boston during the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland to buy guns and further their cause. Unfortunately after some choice words are spoken and memories of a previous night are brought up, the sale devolves into a tense gun battle as everyone attempts to get out alive with their part of the deal.
It is incredibly easy to see Director Ben Wheatley’s hand guiding the film as he blends nigh-on hyper-realistic violence with dark humour to create a wickedly thrilling tale that draws you in. Slowly but surely you realise, too late, that you’re hooked.
A large part of this film’s success lies in the strength of its small but incredibly strong and talented cast, featuring such powerhouses as Brie Larson (Room, Short Term 12) Sharlto Copley (District 9, Elysium) and Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later, Peaky Blinders) to name but a few. Each of the cast brings something important to the story, and to remove any of them from the film would see the entire plot come crashing down.
Of particular note on the character front is Brie Larson’s Justine. Despite being the only female in the cast, she is one of the strongest characters in the film by far, managing to eschew the traditional gender roles of the era (screaming and waiting to be rescued by the hero) and holding her own throughout the firefight by covering her allies as well as performing battlefield surgery on various wounds that she and others obtain. Whilst it is safe to say that everyone is in top-notch form throughout the film, the same cannot be said for Jack Breyer’s American accent. It’s ultimately a rather nit-picky thing to pick up on, but it’s hard to avoid the slight Irish twinge that creeps in to his voice every so often.
The bullets aren’t the only part of the film to come thick and fast, the film’s dialogue manages to maintain a rapid, and fluid pace as well. The entire script is filled with fantastically witty one-liners and prevents the action on-screen from falling into a melodramatic, over-the-top Mexican standoff. It is a true testament to Wheatley’s craft that he can create an almost ironic jovial conversation despite the pervasive sense of tension that continually builds up as each character starts to dig themselves in deeper and deeper.
Mixing in with the snappy script is a plethora of absolutely gorgeous visuals and a soundtrack that complements the aesthetic perfectly, with the possible exception of the finale. That is not to say that the music used during the finale hinders the overall punch for the scene or setting, rather the juxtaposition of the song compared to the imagery takes the denouement from to the next level. To say much more would be to spoil the film, but it is worth it.
Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire is an utterly astounding piece of cinema, and definite must-see if you are a fan of his previous works. Absolutely nothing goes to waste throughout the 90-minute runtime as the scene jumps from one set piece to the next. I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.
Free Fire is out 31st March