Director Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire screening and Q&A @ The Showroom
This March The Showroom welcomed British Director Ben Wheatley to preview his new film ‘Free Fire’ followed by a Q&A with the audience. In recent years, Wheatley has been carving himself a British horror-comedy niche with endeavours such as ‘Sightseers’, ‘A Field in England’ and more recently the big screen adaptation of the JG Ballard classic ‘Highrise’.
Having largely enjoyed ‘Highrise’, been unable to make my mind up about ‘Sightseers’ and not having the slightest idea what to make of ‘A Field in England’ I walked into the ‘Free Fire’ screening not knowing quite what to expect. When Ben Wheatley himself sauntered in to introduce the film it was with the air of a man who had already done a few too many of these preview screenings. Boldly claiming he was off to go get his tea, there was something almost admirable in this honest admission that the man had become sick to the sight of his own film and certainly wasn’t hanging around to watch it.
What followed was, in true Wheatley form, 90 minutes I hadn’t quite made my mind up about by the end. Set amongst the loose backdrop of a 1970s IRA arms deal gone wrong, although it felt like the politics was unimportant. Possibly because this is a film that isn’t set in the 70s so that we can explore the politics of the time, it’s set in the 1970s at the whim of the wardrobe department. The main cast spent so much time yelling to each other and crawling about that the whole thing began to resemble some sort of student night out. In fact, ultimately, it felt like who the film was for. With it’s eyes set firmly on the cult cultural crown currently worn by ‘Reservoir Dogs’ for 70s set thrillers with the outfits and the soundtrack that never feel for one moment aimed at anyone who actually remembers the seventies. On the soundtrack, it felt somewhat like a constant attempt at that instant movie soundtrack recognisability of Steelers Wheel or the George Baker Selection but never quite hitting the mark. Although I’m sure I enjoyed the score, I can’t actually remember a single song from the film.
What was a surprise was the casting. Each actor felt lovingly hand picked to play the perfect part, as Wheatley revealed in the Q&A the parts were indeed sometimes tailor fit to the successful actor. Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Sam Riley and Cillian Murphy all felt in parts that they were born to play. Perhaps even to the point where you question ‘Is it even acting anymore? Or is this just what would ensue if Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Sam Riley and Cillian Murphy were in an arms deal that went wrong in real life?’. A special shout out goes to Sharlto Copley whose character came off as if Murray from Flight of the Conchords had gained a South African accent and was attempting his own remake of Goodfellas. What I did miss however was Ben’s usual plethora of relatively indie british comic actors, and if I’m honest it could have done with that. Besides a brief appearance by Tom Davis we were missing the likes of Reece Shearsmith, Dan Renton Skinner, Alice Lowe who bring that 3am channel 4 tv schedule vibe to your usual Ben Wheatleys. I like that Ben, it’s like it’s 2002 and I’m watching a rerun of Spaced. With the surprise addition of Martin Scorsese in the production team it was disappointingly hard to spot his influence, although an honour for Wheatley to work with I’m sure.
The Q&A itself was surprisingly drab, but what can you expect when the director offers a free tshirt to anyone who asks a question? Gone is ‘what’s your next project’ and ‘why did the politics feature so little in the film’ and instead you get a sea of hands from those who just love a freebie, with questions on par with ‘what’s your favourite colour?’ or ‘how to you like your eggs’? I think my favourite on the night had to be ‘was it loud on set?’
Reasonably enjoyable watch but carries like a film that’s tried a little too hard to look effortlessly cool.