As a long-term admirer, it’s particularly galling to admit that Ben Wheatley’s new movie Free Fire is something of a disaster. Everything he’s done up to this point has been either a resounding success or a brilliantly messy triumph of energy and ideas over flaws (or budget).
Free Fire comes with a fairly heavyweight transatlantic cast and talk of Wheatley doing for the ‘deal gone wrong’ genre what he’s done for folk horror and gangland movies. Consisting entirely of essentially one scene (gun dealers and IRA men meet in a 70s Boston warehouse, there’s a series of betrayals, a lot of shooting ensues), the formal limitations should give Wheatley and screenwriter Amy Jump room to work their magic. But the characters are largely unengaging, the dialogue lacking an essential rhythm and edge, the quotable one-liners thin on the ground. Cynical IRA man Michael Smiley has most of the best lines, the rest falling to Sharlto Copley’s risible South African arms dealer and his dandyish partner Armie Hammer, who’s probably the best thing in the movie, perhaps because for most of the running time it seems like he’s in a different movie altogether. Some of the violence is blackly inventive but the frantic, low-angle camera work soon becomes migraine-inducing. Ultimately, Free Fire commits the gravest of cinematic sins: it’s a crashing bore, and after an hour and a half of gun battles and lame dialogue I found myself wishing everyone had been a much better shot and wiped each other out from the outset.