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Ben Wheatley – ‘Free Fire’ – Review & Interview


Release Date: 21 April 2017 [USA]
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writer: Amy Jump - Ben Wheatley [Screenplay]
Cast: Sharlto Copley - Brie Larson - Armie Hammer

Posted June 21, 2017 by

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Free Fire Review:

For years I’ve loved Ben Wheatley’s films. I was first introduced to his work in college, and became fascinated with his stylistic subversion of genre conventions. His use of genre hybridity makes for quirky, unsettling and compelling films, from Sightseers to A Field in England, and his critical acclaim for recent films such as High Rise has made his name a key one in the film industry. Fortunately, I was able to see a preview of his latest feature, Free Fire, a couple of weeks before national release at The Cameo Cinema in Edinburgh, where Ben Wheatley and actor Sam Riley gave a Q&A after the screening. Hearing the director’s thoughts on the creation and production of his own film was truly fascinating, and showed me how the ideas that audiences compose may not always be the intention of the creator – sometimes we can think too far outside the box, and read into aspects which weren’t intended to create that thought in the first place.

I hadn’t read much about Free Fire before the screening – an intended state, as I think Wheatley’s films are best seen in this way, with no assumptions of what could come next. His ability to subvert audience expectation is brilliant, and this was perfectly achieved for me through Free Fire. The film begins with a group meeting outside a warehouse, where they are all meeting to purchase weaponry from an arms dealer. The atmosphere is still, calculated and reminiscent of vintage crime cinema – trust is established, but betrayal still lingers as characters from different groups are forced to communicate and seal a deal. However, whilst this uneasy atmosphere was prominent throughout, there were also injections of comedy which provided light relief in a film of intense gunfire and mistrust.

Free Fire Review

On the topic of gunfire, that is the one element of the film which proved tricky for me. Viewing Free Fire in the cinema was definitely a unique experience, and the constant shattering sound of firing ammunition soon started to jar with me. I became uncomfortable, as it seemed too loud, but maybe this was the intended effect. It would be that loud for the characters in the warehouse, therefore this heightened level of sound could be an effective way of submerging the audience into the scene – a powerful use of cinema.

However, the stellar choice of casting and soundtrack seem to make up for this aspect, and both provided a perfectly nostalgic ode to the 1970s. Artists such as John Denver and Creedence Clearwater Revival provide songs which create a rich atmosphere in Free Fire, juxtaposing the violent scenes in which they are played over. Whereas the all-star cast, including Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy, are all brilliant at introducing and developing a group of manipulative, mistrusting characters, who we are forced to get to know through the geographical restraints of one warehouse.

Free Fire Cast

There’s no escaping the claustrophobic atmosphere of Free Fire, with its use of a single location, and a large amount of characters all squeezed in. But Wheatley makes it work, with a consistently funny script, packed with plenty of gunfire and laced with betrayal from characters who you least expect. It will keep you guessing throughout, and is a perfect blend of genres – something that Ben Wheatley does best.

Q & A highlights with director Ben Wheatley:

Ben Wheatley Free Fire

BW = Ben Wheatley
SR = Sam Riley

‘Ben, you edit as you go along, is that right?’

BW: ‘On this one, yeah, we were editing on set, so it was more like the old American live TV stuff where the feed would come straight to me and I would chop it up…I think you need to do that, just because there was such a lot of action and we didn’t have much time to do it – you needed to make some really solid decisions, there was no hoping for the best in the editing suite, and everyone would watch it as well.’

‘The fact that the film was set in one confined location works so well, and it worked great in High Rise too. I was wondering if that’s something you particularly like to do as a director? And Sam, if that helped for you or added realism, by being stuck in that one location?

BW: ‘It’s difficult. I did a film in a house, and a film in hotels and the woods, and a film in a caravan, and a film in a field, so it’s a theme isn’t it? It’s not on purpose though. What I wanted to do with Free Fire was a procedural, close-quarters fight…I’d read before about an FBI shoot-out in Miami, and it was so messy and confused, and it was the idea of highly-trained people not being able to shoot at targets. I thought ‘There’s something in this’, and that’s where I was coming from with Free Fire. But then everyone said ‘Oh but it’s in a confined space, like everything else’ and I was like ‘Fuck!’

SR: ‘It was intense. I mean, no-one wants to hear that an actor’s life is difficult, but we did have a great time filming.’

‘How difficult was it to get the sound effects for the gunshots?’

BW: ‘Yeah we used some of the sounds from the day, but we only used bits of it. But through research we found that a lot of gunshot sounds in films are taken from blank-firing guns, and blank-firing guns don’t sound like guns. It’s subtle, but it’s different. There’s nothing coming out, there’s no bullet making that supersonic zing. So we ended up getting Bobby Entwistle, our sound designer, and he went down to a rifle range, where we got real bullets being fired over the microphones. So every gunshot in the film has different elements of sound design in it, because we found that in some of the sequences the repetitive sound effects were getting tiring. So we redesigned each sound, and every gunshot is different.’

‘Ben, when you started making films, what was the pinnacle moment that made you realise this is what you wanted to pursue as a career?’

BW: ‘I started off drawing, and I wanted to be a cartoonist, but I couldn’t draw hands and feet. So I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere with it, and retrospectively I see that all the drawing was me trying to understand sequential storytelling. I think what changed it all for me, was the internet. I’d tried to make stuff in the 90s, but the technology just wasn’t great. It was only when editing suites became cheap, and cameras became cheap when you could actually make stuff, without having to go into massive debt. I remember shooting my first scene on 16mm, and all I could hear was the sound of my money pouring down the drain but when I got to work on digital film, then it all made sense.’

‘Ben, have you got any projects lined up?’

BW: ‘We’re trying to put together a science fiction film called Freakshift, which I’ve been trying to put together since 2011. So it’s been going on and on, but it’s basically women with shotguns vs. giant crabs. It sells itself, doesn’t it?’


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Lyndsay Townsend
Freelance Contributor

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