Screening: “Free Fire”

My report from an early screening of Ben Wheatley's new movie.

Straight up, I have to say this: Free Fire is one bat shit crazy movie. Check out this red band trailer [WARNING: The movie max-out mixes violence and humor, so if that isn't your cup of tea, don't drink it.]

Free Fire was co-written by Ben Wheatley and his wife Amy Jump, and directed by Wheatley. His other movie credits include Kill List, Sightseers, and High Rise.

Last night, I was invited to an early screening of Free Fire at Chicago's wonderful Music Box Theater with a follow-up Q&A with Wheatley. A good time was had by all including yours truly.

The movie is extremely violent… and extremely funny. If the French New Wave and movies like Bonnie and Clyde ushered in the ironic meshing of contradictory narrative elements common to post-modern filmmaking, Free Fire represents a whole other level. Example: We all know about the trope of an act of violence perpetrated while some incongruent musical number plays in the background (think Reservoir Dogs and "Stuck in the Middle With You"), Wheatley may have topped them all with the inclusion of John Denver's "You Fill Up My Senses". Indeed, that sequence may have buried the trope once and for all.

The story takes place pretty much in real time, 90 minutes of a deal gone south and all hell breaking loose, set in the go-go 70s, an era the movie captures well. It's a war zone in a warehouse.

Wheatley's Q&A was informative. Some notes:

  • He did pre-visualization using Minecraft. That's right. The computer game. All the more impressive because of how complex the shoot was as well as maximizing the visual and dramatic possibilities of the single location.
  • The shoot was six weeks, six days a week.
  • Because continuity issues were so challenging, they shot the movie in chronological order.
  • Martin Scorsese is an executive producer of the movie.
  • In his extensive research on shoot-out situations involving multiple shooters, Wheatley discovered that even highly trained marksmen become as inaccurate in their aim as "Star Wars storm troopers".
  • "It's an actual war film in which you see the story from both sides. No black hat, white hat situation." This is true. None of the characters is all good. Nobody is all bad. The narrative provides us with a bunch of individuals and enough backstory as well as personality so we 'get' who each of them is, then tosses into the mix an armada full of assault weapons and pistols. Oh yeah, the proverbial briefcase full of cash makes an appearance.
Ben Wheatley at the Chicago screening of "Free Fire"

While Wheatley didn't talk about any sort of political meaning in the movie, it's hard to overlook some key facts: The deal is to buy weapons presumably for the Irish Republican Army and the dealer is from South Africa which at that time was still subject to apartheid. Beyond that, the over-the-top machismo dick-measuring contest sensibility of the male combatants in the movie has some definite resonance given current geopolitics.

And let me just say, if ever there were a movie which could jump-start the gun control movement, it may be Free Fire. None of these characters depicted in the film deserves to be anywhere within a mile of a firearm.

Here is an interview with Wheatley and some of the movie's actors:

For those looking for an entertaining action-comedy and your particular trigger warning for violence is set on 'low', Free Fire is for you.

Twitter: @FreeFireMovie, @A24.

Opens in North America: April 21.


Screening: "Free Fire" was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story – Medium

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