Ben Wheatley is—and always has been—an imperfect filmmaker. And I don’t think he gives a flying shit about it, to be honest. His filmography speaks for itself: frequently bold and daring confections that blow carefree raspberries to sparkly prestige pics and big-budgeted blockbusters. That’s not his turf. His line of work is to fuck around with his audiences and make them talk. Even if they hate what he does, well, at least they’re not dozing on glossy, streamlined opiates. At least they’re engaging with him.
Free Fire is one more corker in a line of corkers, though perhaps not as fundamentally trippy as Kill List or A Field in England (and certainly not as intricate in scope as High-Rise). It’s more in line with Sightseers, taking something seemingly conventional and making a rip-roaring farce out of its carcass. The premise—an arms deal in an abandoned warehouse gone sour—devolves into messy, incoherent shootout where you don’t know who’s shooting at who (and, for a short while, why they’re shooting at the people they’re shooting at). None of the glamorous, carefully-choreographed Tarantino bullet blazing, no. People aim, fire, miss, fire again, hit some indiscriminate object. Some bullets ricochet and hit their targets as if by lucky chance. There’s a little blood, but it’s mostly just dirty bodies getting even dirtier as they weaken from injury. People crawl around, shout invectives, make snarky asides to people who can hear them. Sometimes there are lulls; other times, all hell breaks loose over and over. Wheatley does his best to make it all look so ridiculous as a damning indictment against those who treat guns like harmless little toys. In the hands of idiots, the carnage is as real as it is senseless.
It’s not Wheatley at his nuttiest, nor Wheatley operating at his peak. And it’s a film that is meant to be enjoyed in the moment rather than remembered for months and years afterward. But staying power or no, Free Fire’s trigger-happy insanity brought me the goods, and honestly that’s all I really could have asked for. Onward and upward we go.