SXSW Film Review: "Free Fire"

Director Ben Wheatley’s “Free Fire” (2016) premiered in the United States as a headliner of the SXSW Film Festival on Monday  at the Paramount Theater in downtown Austin. The one-setting crime and comedy thriller shocked the audience’s minds and hearing with its twisting plotline and ear-shattering sound bites, containing over 7,000 rounds of ammunition fired.  The 70s era “who shot who” production contained a never before seen arrangement of cast members including Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson and Armie Hammer.

Review by Ethan Elkins

Photo by Ethan Elkins.

Photo by Ethan Elkins.

Tension in the theater was high when a misunderstanding ruined a massive almost-complete firearm sale. The cast was confined to the interior of an abandoned factory, forced to utilize remnants of their surroundings to survive an ongoing shooting match between (three?) different sides.

The direction of “Free Fire” is impeccable. The careful planning and execution of the movements of each limping character across the dirt floor of the outdated factory was impressive. The film was shot mostly chronologically, with the exception of one scene in which  a character catches on fire. The filming schedule was created while thinking of the continuity issues wardrobe would run into with an out of sequence shoot, according to Wheatley. Because the story occurs over the course of  a single evening, the characters never change clothes.

Precise editing drove the film from quick cuts to sound level differentiation based on where each character was physically located in relation to the one on screen, so it is understandable that Wheatley had a major role in the editing process, in conjunction with Amy Jump. With each shot fired, the emotions of the leads moved further out of hand, leaving control to whomever had a loaded weapon.

Film poster courtesy of imdb.com.

Film poster courtesy of imdb.com.

Ulterior motives unfolded as characters such as Justine (Larson) revealed their true motives. The sole female cast member, Larson makes up for her lack of representation with a bold personality, playing off = her looks to outsmart the men who continually objectify her. As the liaison of the sale, Justine may be the sweetheart of the film, but she is not one to cross. Hammer’s witty portrayal of the tough and thoroughly bearded Ord provided comic relief in times of utter violence, including at the time of death for many characters.

The film’s standout performance is Babou Ceesay’s portrayal of Martin, an ex-black panther whose dynamic comes off as insane to the viewer. Ceesay delivers his few lines with an intense power that evokes just as much fear in the audience as it does in the other characters. His short-lived anger leaves a lasting impression through the end of the film.

“Free Fire” was not the typical action or gunfight film. The plotline transcended genres by presenting the death of a loved one as comical, the concept of friendship as arbitrary and the power of greed as an unfortunate component of human nature. The film’s worldwide release is expected in late April 2017.