Free Fire – Preview & Q+A

A new film by Ben Wheatley, particularly a preview and post-screen Q&A with the director, will inevitably be a draw for many cinema fans.

Me? The cast was the attraction. Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer and Brie Larson were the main pull-factor, plus an additional cast which includes Michael Smiley, Sam Riley, Noah Taylor and Jack Reynor (recently seen as the older brother in Sing Street). There’s also Sharlto Copley, but … well …

Deliberately knowing absolutely nothing about the storyline before I went in was an excellent move on my part! There is little plot, and it’s mostly action but without moving around. I know.

The premise is a gang of IRA gunmen (led by Murphy) turn up to purchase weapons from a gunrunner (Copley), facilitated by a third party (Hammer). Things don’t go to plan, and the majority of the film is an almighty shoot-out in an enclosed space.

Apart from assembling a great cast, Wheatley does two things perfectly. One is to wrangle the ‘action’ in such a way that, despite the large number of people involved, and the various factions they represent, it’s always clear who is where and what they’re up to. And every now and again Wheatley ensures that you’re so involved in watching one interaction take place that you’ll forget that someone else was in the process of  – BAM! They appear when you aren’t expecting them and add another layer to the chaos. Additionally, as everyone has their turn at literally getting caught in the crossfire, the action moves gradually to ground level which brings a whole new dimension to a chase sequence.

The second thing Wheatley has done so well is to integrate quips, asides and humour into proceedings. This is a funny film – and in fact it does need moments of levity as a counter to the otherwise continuous shooting and battering. Some of the humour arises from the ridiculousness of the situation, but also from the sardonic nature of the characters – Smiley and Hammer in particular have some great verbal exchanges which had the cinema audience hooting with laughter.

Full marks to the sound team at HOME who turned the volume up for the event to such an extent that I could actually feel my teeth rattling in my mouth at some of the ricocheting gunshots.

Brie Larson is the only on-screen female in this ensemble cast and while her role is no less important than any of the others, it feels a little underdone in that the percentage of female presence is tiny compared to the amount of testosterone on display. And Sharlto Copley – well, he was actually a good choice to play this role – although quite how much acting he’s doing, I wouldn’t like to say.

I’m not a de facto fan of Wheatley’s carefully managed chaos, but I had fun watching this in the same open-mouthed way I enjoyed watching the first John Wick incarnation.

Following the screening, Ben Wheatley and Michael Smiley answered some (for once not fawning) questions from the audience. Some of the responses involve spoilers which it would be unfair to reveal, but Wheatley’s explanation of how Martin Scorsese came to be Executive Producer was awesome. And it was good to learn that Michael Smiley is completely jealous of Armie Hammer, describing him as “too lovely and accomplished”, before unleashing some choice language about how handsome, funny and downright perfect he is in real life.

Wheatley and Smiley make a formidable pairing both in person and  on-screen, and it was a privilege to witness them in action.

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