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Painfully funny: Why Free Fire is like watching your favourite actors play paintball

Chris Edwards reviews Ben Wheatley’s brilliantly zany shootout comedy.

Who doesn’t want to a see a plethora of major Hollywood stars grovelling in the dirt while nursing wounds that will definitely turn gangrenous? No one, that’s who. Thankfully, that’s exactly what director Ben Wheatley gives us in Free Fire, an action comedy about an arms deal that goes wrong. It’s set entirely in an abandoned factory that looks like its original purpose was to one day become an abandoned factory. It would be ideal for the likes of Saw or Friday the 13th, but amazingly this isn’t a horror. There aren’t any teenagers in it.
It’s like watching a game of paintball, where there’s no real risk of death, but it’s highly amusing when someone gets shot in the leg and then limps around.
Why Free Fire is like watching your favourite actors play paintball
You’d be forgiven for thinking so, though, given the nature of Wheatley’s previous films, like the gruesome Sightseers and the nightmarish High-Rise, which saw Tom Hiddleston dance in slow motion for a terrifying amount of time. But the director’s zany approach to filmmaking has now become so familiar that this alternative take on the action genre hardly comes as a surprise.

Free Fire requires you to suspend belief to a certain extent, in that the characters never seem to be in a great deal of danger, despite being peppered with bullets. It’s like watching a game of paintball, where there’s no real risk of death, but it’s highly amusing when someone gets shot in the leg and then limps around. The real dramatic gems come from the considered relationships between the characters.
The director’s zany approach to filmmaking has now become so familiar that this alternative take on the action genre hardly comes as a surprise.
Astonishingly, considering there are ten of them, those characters are brilliantly fleshed-out. Vernon (Sharlto Copley), the incompetent arms dealer, is a smarmy South African pervert in a tacky suit. He has history with deal-fixer Justine (Brie Larson), which creates friction with the buyer Chris (Cillian Murphy). But things only kick off when a grudge between Stevo (Sam Riley) and Harry (Jack Reynor) is reignited and insults are thrown at each other’s faces like lead pipes. Armie Hammer’s Ord tries the keep the peace between the two sides, but even he can’t help but antagonise Frank (Michael Smiley). You know exactly who each person is going to target when the excrement hits the fan.

Wheatley does a tremendous job of establishing so many unsavoury characters. It’s impossible not to be disappointed by Free Fire when it delivers exactly what it promised: a room full of funny people shooting each other and the hearty laughs that naturally encourages.

Get tickets for Free Fire, out now.