Accuse Ben Wheatley of what you like, but diluting violence for the sake of any of the audience’s sensibilities certainly isn’t a criticism that can be levelled against him. Following on from recent projects such as the surreal Kill List and Sightseers, the director changes his chameleonic colours once more, entering the arena of gritty action.
Throughout Free Fire it’s difficult to escape Tarantino comparisons, particularly Reservoir Dogs, due to the enclosed warehouse setting, betrayals, excessive violence as well as Wheatley and Amy Jump’s witty screenplay. Following a brief period of relative calm in which the two sides eventually reach an agreement on an arms deal, a grudge between the back-up men of each group sets chaos in motion. The ensuing stand-off is intermingled with quotable dialogue, much of which springs from the mouth of Sharlto Copley’s flamboyant Vernon. Typical of his braggadocio is a mid-fight monologue where he justifies his homemade cardboard arm shield as “protection from infection” to one of his associates. Wheatley also doesn’t skimp on his trademark colourful language, which is emphasised most eloquently when Frank (Michael Smiley) berates one of his assailants as a “fucking chocolate teapot”.
Yet despite the volcanic momentum that is created in the introduction of the film’s large ensemble of characters, the middle section suffers from a lack of variation and constant gunfights. Even though Wheatley describes the film as “mercilessly short”, he is nonetheless unable to bring the repetitive second act to a satisfying conclusion in time for the slightly underwhelming final twist. Similarly to High Rise, the enclosed environments that Wheatley has grown accustomed to utilising in recent projects may well heighten the chaos of his situations, but he often fails to develop the characters within them to their full extent.