Free Fire review – Ben Wheatley’s shootout comedy is firing blanks

The acclaimed director of Kill List and Sightseers attempts to appeal to a more mainstream audience with a noisy sub-Tarantino caper that fails to grab attention

After the one-two punch of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, the bottom shelves of everyones local video store were filled with desperate Tarantino knock-offs from directors hoping a similar formula of violence, wit and songs from the 60s would see them crowned the next film-making wunderkind. As they started to thin out, we then saw the Guy Ritchie effect take its place with laboured gangster comedies dominating British cinema for far too long.

Given director Ben Wheatleys pedigree, its something of a surprise to see his latest offering crash into this years Toronto film festival as a curious and disappointing amalgamation of the two. The director, who has become one of the UKs most unique talents with diverse and daring projects such as Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England hit something of a pothole at last years festival with the divisive JG Ballard adaptation High-Rise. But even that was an admirable failure, full of style and ambition, albeit caught up in a swirling and pretentious mess. His latest, Free Fire, eschews the strangeness of his previous work and makes a bold bid for a wider audience. But while its undoubtedly his most accessible film to date, hes lost something crucial along the way.

The film takes place over just one night and in just one building; a warehouse in 70s Massachusetts. Its the location of an arms deal and brings together an unlikely group of players (a cast that includes Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, longtime Wheatley collaborator Michael Smiley, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley) all with varying agendas. After a testy start, things go from bad to really bad in an instant and a bloody standoff ensues with shots firing, voices raising and people dying.

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