BANG. CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS. BANG.
Full disclosure at the outset: my hopes were not high for this one. For whatever reason, I've not clicked with any of Ben Wheatley's films thus far: the most entertaining was Sightseers, but the critical responses to High-Rise, Kill List and A Field In England literally made no sense to me. (He's also directed a couple of episodes of Doctor Who, a show whose increasingly abominable writing finally forced me to walk away from it when even the pantomime idiocies of the Sylvester McCoy era couldn't). This isn't necessarily a bad thing: not connecting with a particular film-maker is like not finding a particular standup funny or not liking a particular band, and it's nothing to be ashamed of, but when so many people you know and trust tell you he/she/it/they is/are wonderful you start to wonder if the fault lies with you, when the reality there is no more "fault" in not liking Ben Wheatley movies than there is "fault" in not liking walnut whips. The defence, such as it is, rests.
Free Fire is, hurrah, a lot better. Maybe because it doesn't have that nonsensical social allegory going on (High-Rise made no sense on any level at all), opting instead for a simple B-movie shoot-em-up scenario in which colourful, amusing (and distinct) characters fire guns at each other. It's some time in the 1970s (to judge from the cars, the clothes and the 8-track cartridge of John Denver) and Cillian Murphy is looking to buy guns for the IRA from dealer Sharlto Copley in a deal put together by Brie Larson. The groups meet up to make the exchange in an abandoned umbrella factory, but two of the low-level goons have unresolved business of their own and it suddenly escalates to an all-out Last Man Standing war between everybody....
It doesn't have the literary importance and significance of High-Rise (adapted from a notoriously unfilmable JG Ballard novel) and it doesn't have any of the Media Studies coursework artiness of A Field In England. What it does have is a straightforward set-up with a small starry cast in one well-used location (and apparently taking place in real time), and which is over in a crisp 90 minutes including credits. And considering it's set overnight in a derelict factory, it's well photographed and you're never lost for what's going on and who's where. It's also fun: zingy, sweary one-liners that come from character rather than the joke book, a solid lineup of character performers (Michael Smiley is probably Man Of The Match) having a great time with the 70s costumes and hair. The setting does obviously bring Tarantino to mind, and Reservoir Dogs in particular (rather moreso than the works of Martin Scorsese who acted as executive producer here), but Free Fire has a much softer and more likeable feel to it.
Against that: it's hard to care very much when Team A are international arms dealers and Team B are supplying the IRA. And to be honest the relentless shooting gets a tad wearisome from time to time, even in a film that's basically the length of a Carry On film. Yet, for some unaccountable reasons, I find I'm thinking of it more favourable than I did while I was actually watching it. I still don't think it's a Great Film and I still don't get Ben Wheatley as a master of cinema, but I can say that it's the film of his that I've most enjoyed and had the most fun with.