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  • Free Fire, the latest from director Ben Wheatley, is certainly the polar opposite of his previous effort High Rise. Where the latter was high-minded, clinically stylish, and densely allegorical, Free Fire is an unabashedly straightforward piece of entertainment with the simplest of set-ups: almost half a dozen people enter a warehouse and bullets start flying. The point isn’t even how many survive the carnage, but rather to sit back, relax and watch the players shoot, writhe, and bemoan their situation.

    It’s the late Seventies somewhere in Boston, and there’s a shady deal to be done in the shadows of the night. IRA soldiers Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley) are waiting for their cohorts Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley) to arrive at the meet. With Chris and Frank is Justine, who has brokered this illegal gun deal between them and gun dealers Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and Ord (Armie Hammer). Tension is at a simmer as they go about the motions of the purchase – Chris irritates easily ruffled Vernon by pointing out the merchandise is not what they ordered – the guns are AR-70 assault rifles rather than M-16s; Vernon’s associate Martin (Babou Ceesay) reasons they won’t get anything better for the price; Justine agrees, Chris relents, the money is on the table, the deal is pretty much done.

    Vernon’s goons Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor) are called in to unload the rest of the guns, and it all kicks off. Stevo points out that Harry beat him the day before, Harry explains that it was because Stevo abused his cousin, everyone calls for Stevo to apologise so they can all get the hell out of there, Stevo taunts Harry, the first bullet goes off, and everyone scrambles for cover. The rest of the film is a carnival of cacophony as bullets ricochet all over the abandoned warehouse, sometimes accompanied by the sound of flesh being punctured and wails and comic quips from everyone involved. Wheatley obviously delights in controlled chaos and part of the fun in watching Free Fire derives from wondering how Wheatley can sustain such a limited premise. For the most part, he succeeds though the film inevitably becomes droning and monotonous.

    The actors, decked out in Seventies gear and sporting a parade of dodgy wigs and facial hair, do their best to distinguish themselves but most get lost in the shuffle. It’s often hard to keep track of the alliances – at one point, even one character tries to remember which side he’s on – and no one character is outstanding enough to warrant any emotional investment from the audience. That said, Copley makes for a deliciously unhinged figure, his worry that his suit not be damaged almost equal to the concern for his safety. The bearded Hammer literally and figuratively towers over everyone else with his impossibly suave and dryly bemused performance.

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