Ben Cherry has written a review of Free Fire and the following Q&A from Director Ben Wheatley and Producer Andrew Starke.
Q and A screenings have become a lot more common in recent years. British director Ben Wheatley has used this method to promote his films on a regular basis, but his Q & A tour for his new film Free Fire is his most ambitious to date. Starting in Truro in January and ending in London in March, he is travelling all across the country to promote the film before its wide release on the 31st of March. Tickets for his visit to the Plymouth Arts Centre sold out within an hour and as a regular Usher on a Thursday night, I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to experience this very special event.
The screening was packed and filled with fans of Ben Wheatley’s work as well as regular Plymouth Arts Centre attendees. The talented Director started off with a brief and amusing introduction about bribing audience members with a free T-shirt if they asked questions during the Q & A session. Needless to say the T-shirts disappeared pretty quickly! He then stepped out of the cinema to allow Free Fire to do all the talking.
Free Fire is set in 1970s Boston, (but filmed in Brighton), and involves two sets of criminal groups who arrange to meet in a warehouse in order to purchase some guns. However things don’t go according to plan and a violent, chaotic shoot-out ensues. One group, the Irish side, stars Cillian Murphy and Ben Wheatley regular Michael Smiley. The American side stars Oscar winner Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Jack Reynor and Sharlto Copley as a very over the top South African. The cast are clearly having a lot of fun, especially Copley who possibly steals the show as Vernon, more concerned about his suit than he is about getting shot.
The films setting and colourful characters do recall Quentin Tarantino’s debut Reservoir Dogs. In fact, apart from the warehouse setting it mainly reminded me of last years The Hateful Eight. For one, the violence in both Free Fire and The Hateful Eight is over the top and played for laughs whereas in ‘Dogs’ the violence is horrifying and more realistic. Both films also feature a cast with dangerous men and one very dangerous woman. Brie Larson is great in her role as Justine and despite being initially portrayed as an innocent party, ends up killing the most people during the film. As Ben Wheatley said in the Q and A, she is “both Ripley and the Alien”.
Compared to Wheatley’s other films it certainly is a lot more accessible and commercial than High Rise or Kill List. It also lacks some of the depth of his previous films and the characters are mainly defined by the stars that play them. However the film is incredibly funny, there are plenty of gags and witty one-liners. There are many great performances and despite their criminal leanings most of the characters are very likeable and you hope that none of the characters bite the bullet too quickly. In fact the film is one of the most purely fun cinema experiences I have had in a while.
Once the film was finished we got straight into the Q & A with Wheatley and Producer Andrew Starke. There were plenty of questions and not just because of the free T-shirts. We found out that 7000 shots were fired over the course of six weeks, (interestingly it cost £1 a shot) and despite the big stars the film was completely independent which was refreshing to hear.
They considered having Martin Scorsese as Executive Producer a huge endorsement and when they showed him the finished film, the legendary director gave his seal of approval.
The event last Thursday was hugely exciting and was a great opportunity to meet one of British cinema’s best directors. I’m now desperate to go back and re-watch his small but brilliant filmography.
Ben Cherry is a freelance writer working and living in Plymouth.