Anarchic ’70s arms deal caper starring Sharlto Copley and Cillian Murphy, directed by Ben Wheatley.
If they ever make a biopic about Monty Python’s Eric Idle, then Sharlto Copley must play the lead role. The relentlessly hysterical South African character actor has carved himself a nice niche in off the wall nerds over the last few years but here, in a leading role in what’s basically an ensemble piece, he cuts loose and really lets rip the humour that’s so obviously been bottled up inside him and bound only by the roles he’s thus far been restricted to.
In Free Fire, Copley plays a cocksure gun runner-cum playboy in a nylon lounge suit, hoping to score a big payday by selling a van-load of assault rifles to a pair of Irish hoodlums working for an un-named organisation. Given this is set in the 1970s, it’s not hard to guess which one that might be, though the picture remains wholeheartedly free from politics : this movie is all about cartoon violence.
From the moment the two parties get together to seal the deal in an abandoned warehouse, the atmosphere cranks up a notch as ice cold broker Justine – played straight and with simmering control by Brie Larson – introduces everyone and attempts to get the ball rolling. Money is discussed, then logistics, all the while the banter flowing back and forth from the supremely offensive Vernon (Copley) to the tense and twitchy Chris (Murphy), keen to get the job done and be back on the boat to the Emerald Isle.
Of course it was never going to be as simple as that as anyone who’s seen the trailer can testify. Without giving too much away, somebody’s got an itchy trigger finger and all is not quite what it seems anyway in that dusty old factory ..
The ensuing ninety minutes is pure slapstick violence at its finest. Everyone gets shot at least once and the blood is spurting and spraying almost as liberally as the one-liners, for this is a truly quotable script. While Vernon pleads for calm and asks everyone to “Learn with Vern” the entire scenario becomes fraught and frenzied and at times it’s difficult to remember which side is which, to the point that one of the characters actually states “I forget whose side I’m on”. The mayhem is deliberate and designed to keep everyone on their toes, a la Naked Gun or – perhaps more accurately – Blazing Saddles.
While this is something of an obvious homage to Reservoir Dogs, Free Fire is more reminiscent of a Peckinpah or even an over-the-top episode of The Sweeney, resembling a western in a more modern setting. I say modern, but the 70s details are delicious. The soundtrack is bang-on – none more so than the 8-track playing in the gun van itself – while the fashions are beautifully realised, from the drugged up bums helping out as hired muscle, through to Vern’s own bespoke business attire. Yes, he’s a terrible misogynist with an ego the size of Johannesburg, but the man’s got style.
Free Fire is a movie for the Call Of Duty generation brought up on dodgy American comedies and Tarantino action while listening to their dad’s record collection. Leave your morals at the door and just let it wash over you – it’s a fun ride if you can forget the real world for a while ..