TIFF Journal: ‘Free Fire’

'Free Fire'

Movie Rating:


For years, Ben Wheatley (‘Kill List’, ‘High-Rise’) has established himself as one of the best genre filmmakers on the planet. He’s dabbled in crime, horror, comedy, and even more esoteric art house fare. He has a morbid wit and intellectual ambition along with a rabid film junkie’s sense of genre games. On a certain level, Wheatley’s latest feature, ‘Free Fire’, is his least ambitious directorial effort to date, yet it’s also his most purely entertaining and accessible.

The film is essentially a contained action movie, kind of like his take on a John Carpenter flick. Wheatley’s aesthetics are completely different, but his film is just as focused, cynical, character-driven, and viscerally effective as Carpenter’s early work. It’s the sort of thing that should become a cult movie and will likely earn Wheatley a wider audience in the process.

The setup is simple: In 1978 Boston, an arms deal is arranged between some IRA heavies and a gang of local goons. Cillian Murphy and Wheatley muse Michael Smiley play the visiting violent activists. Brie Larson is the middle-woman, Armie Hammer the wiseass hired hand to ensure safety, Sharlto Copley is the South African arms dealer with the goods, and folks like Sam Riley and Tom Davis play local Boston hot heads brought on as muscle. The guns aren’t the ones that were ordered, the locals have beef no one predicted, and everyone is a little hot under the collar. The next thing you know, there’s a standoff in the middle of an abandoned warehouse with plenty of available firepower and raging tempers to stoke the flames.

Things get messy fast. Wheatley gleefully introduces all of his eccentric characters and gradually ratchets up the tension. Right away, conflict between seemingly every character boils over in an instant. The tone bounces between the hilariously profane and the viciously violent. The movie opens carefully crafted, but then the director’s patented handheld anarchy takes over when bullets are fired and blood is spilled.

Performances are fantastic across the board (particularly from Copley and Hammer’s dingbat scene-stealers). It’s ace entertainment, exquisitely made by a team of filmmakers and actors with A-level credentials deliberately dabbling in B-movie thrills.

‘Free Fire’ is pure nasty entertainment, delivered by a filmmaker who knows exactly how to generate thrills and craft believable humans caught in the crossfire. The movie won’t win awards (despite the involvement of Martin Scorsese as producer), but it will offer tremendous appeal to a certain audience that craves this sort of down and dirty genre picture. Expect big laughs and screams from any audience diving into Wheatley’s latest, and hopefully some box office success will come along with the ride. This guy is good enough to deserve a larger canvas to deliver his twisted vision next time.


  1. Bolo

    It looks like it might be fun but could also get annoying. The trailer reminded me of that wave of mostly bad, gratingly self-impressed, gangster movies of the late 90’s when everybody was looking for the next Tarantino. Stuff like ‘Boondock Saints’. I might give it a go if it plays near me.

    • ScoobySnack

      The film is basically a knockoff of the film THE NEST (without crediting that film).
      But yeah, the Tarantino wannabe-vibe is high is that trailer. ( and unfortunately, it’s one of those trailers that feels like a mini encapsulation of the entire movie).

    • 5 stars means the movie is perfect and couldn’t be improved. That should be a difficult standard to meet.

      If you want a web site that gives 5 stars to just about everything, I can make a recommendation for you. 🙂

      • Joao Lima

        “If you want a web site that gives 5 stars to just about everything, I can make a recommendation for you. :)”

        I did not ask for that. This kind of reaction to reader’s comments that from time tom
        time I see here in highdefdigest makes me want to stop reading this site.

        • You asked why we don’t give out a lot of 5-star scores. Doing so would devalue the meaning of that rating. 5 stars is only intended for the very best of the best.

          The “recommendation” comment was not an attack on you, but a playful jab at one of our competitor home theater sites that’s notorious for handing out 5-star scores like candy.

        • Phil

          Yeah, I’m pretty careful about 5 star movies to make that rating special or for movies that really stand out to me personally. And hey, 4 and 4.5 star ratings are still pretty damn good and I give out loads of those!

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