Sharlto Copley Free Fire
Cast: Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Jack Reynor Babou, Ceesay, Enzo Cilenti, Sam Riley, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor
Director: Ben Wheatley
Running Time: 91 minutes
Synopsis: Massachusetts late -70s. A Winnebago cruises through the night towards the waterfront district with some urgency. The driver, Bernie (Enzo Cilenti), hurls abuse at other road users while in the passenger seat Stevo (Sam Riley) attempts to hold it together, his bruised face and air of dishevelment the result of the previous night's antics, something he's not keen to discuss. He smokes a joint to centre himself. At the dockside Stevo's Irish brother-in-law Frank (Michael Smiley) agitatedly waits by a car containing the far more relaxed Chris (Cillian Murphy), a fellow Irishman and Frank's business partner, and Justine (Brie Larson), an American intermediary in this deal.
The Winnebago arrives, the stoned inhabitants fall out of it. Frank roughs Stevo up, annoyed by his unprofessional attitude. A man approaches this motley crew on the dockside. He is well groomed, dressed in sports jacket and polo neck sweater, exuding confidence and control with every step, this is Ord (Armie Hammer). Introductions are made, Ord pats everyone down, he doesn't mind they are mostly armed his concern is for wires. Satisfied all is kosher the party moves into a nearby abandoned factory. 'Fuck the small talk, let's buy some guns, eh," says Chris. They enter the main warehouse. It's huge, half demolished, a few pillars, piles of rubble and broken down office partitions mark out the landscape. Rubbish, building debris, pieces of machinery and broken glass are everywhere. Ord calls out and two men enter: 'international asshole" Vernon (Sharlto Copley) dressed expensively but with little taste and his business partner Martin (Babou Ceesay), the arms traders. Despite the discrepancy between what was ordered and what is delivered, the deal is struck and the cash changes hands.
In an adjoining part of the factory, Gordon (Noah Taylor) and Harry (Jack Reynor) wait in a red Chevy van. Harry's knuckles are badly bruised, also the result of some mysterious altercation the previous night...
Satisfied with the cash count, Vernon and Martin radio to their underlings to bring in the rest of the consignment. Across the warehouse, Stevo spots Harry driving the Chevy and immediately becomes agitated, hiding his face and cursing. Gordon and Harry exit the Chevy and start to unload the gun crates from the back. Frank, annoyed with Stevo's apparent shirking of his duties, sends him over to pick up the crates. Harry spots him, is stunned for a second then lunges for him with a crowbar, we learn it's no coincidence that he and Stevo share fresh injuries. Both men have to be pulled apart by their respective gangs while Vernon, Martin, Ord and Justine try to figure out just what is going on and how to fix this ill-timed outburst of violence. Harry quietly reaches into the van, produces a revolver and shoots Stevo, hitting him in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground. Harry is dragged away, in the ensuing melee Stevo draws his pistol and starts firing indiscriminately. The situation is now out of control. More guns are drawn, everyone dives for the nearest available cover, the warehouse becomes a shooting gallery.
Shots and insults are traded between gangs, there's no coming back from this mess. Just about everyone takes a bullet as tempers continue to flare. Just when it seems as if there's no way things can get worse, high on a balcony overlooking the warehouse two snipers, Howard (Patrick Bergin) and Jimmy (Mark Monero), open fire. No one seems to know who ordered the snipers.
In an effort to appease, Chris proposes they let Justine leave so she can contact everyone's people to come and help sort out this escalating mess before they all bleed to death. As she attempts to leave a phone is heard ringing in the offices that overlook the warehouse. The uneasy truce is broken, the stakes are raised, shooting resumes as the gangs realise whoever reaches the phone first to call for outside help will win. To do this the other side must be stopped. At all costs
Release Date: April 27th, 2017
About The Production
Free Fire sees Ben Wheatley return home to Rook Films after briefly leaving the fold for the critically acclaimed adaptation of J.G. Ballard's High-Rise, produced by Jeremy Thomas. Reuniting with producer Andrew Starke, who has produced all Wheatley's feature films bar High-Rise, Free Fire is Rook Films' largest undertaking, adding to the company's impressive resume containing not only Wheatley's films but other such interesting and unique works as Peter Strickland's The Duke of Burgundy, Steve Oram's Aaaaaaaah! and the upcoming The Greasy Strangler from Jim Hosking.
Free Fire sees Ben Wheatley's longtime love of action cinema take full flourish. 'It's kind of pure cinema. I wanted to do something that was dynamic and kinetic, that played up to things I really enjoy, like editing" says Ben Wheatley. 'You can see a bit of it in stuff like Kill List and it's in the -Doctor Who' episodes I did as well. I grew up watching Sam Peckinpah films, I remember having a heightened reaction to things like the editing in The Wild Bunch, Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia and Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, incredible."
It wasn't just the influence of these classics that spawned Free Fire, the gulf between accounts of real life gun battles and how such events are portrayed on the big screen also played into its creation. 'I'd read a lot of transcripts of shootouts. There'd been a big one that the FBI had in Miami, there's a blow-by-blow account of what happened online. It's insane and it's always been at the back of my mind to put that into a film," recounts Ben Wheatley. 'Looking at transcripts and ballistics reports, you see you don't necessarily die right away if you get shot if the vital organs are missed. Another thing is that most people in gun battles aren't very well trained. I was trying to think what it would really be like, obviously still within the bounds of entertainment, it's not something I've really seen in a film." The other key element in the creation of Free Fire was the casting, as Ben Wheatley explains:
'These things come from a lot of different places, as usual. Some of it came from wanting to work with Cillian Murphy, trying to work out what would be a good role for him. Cillian Murphy's agent had phoned my agent, said he wanted to meet up and we chatted about what we might do together. So I went away and wrote him something, so that's a bit different from other members of the cast."
With Cillian Murphy locked the rest of the cast fell into place. As the cast grew so it shaped the script, which evolved to accommodate and capitalise on the unique qualities each performer was bringing to the table.
'Michael Smiley's character was obviously written specifically for him because you couldn't cast anyone else but Michael Smiley in that role I don't think," explains Wheatley. 'The others were through casting. Amy (Jump) and I both really loved The Lone Ranger, so just on a punt we'd asked, 'can we talk to Armie Hammer?" And they got in contact and said yes, so that was really nice. Amy rewrote it as we went along, as we were shooting, to mold it more into Armie's voice. Sharlto Copley , I've always been a massive fan of Sharlto Copley , he was quite late into it but again we changed the role to fit him, made him South African. Sam Riley reached out with his agents, had a brief chat on Skype and he's brilliant, like a young John Hurt." The impressive cast also boasts a freshly minted Oscar winner. 'Brie Larson, which is obviously a complete bonus and lucky for us," says Ben Wheatley. 'I met her just through the agents again and they said she's really cool do you want to meet up and have a chat with her?
Of course I did and I'd seen some of her other films and thought she was great. We'd heard of Room, heard it was amazing but had no idea."
With such a strong cast, Free Fire is able to explore some intriguing themes overlaid into its shoot-'em-up framework. Ben Wheatley expounds: 'Everyone has this massive baggage of ideas about themselves and very rarely do we get tested. You might think you are a great hero then find out what a terrible coward you are. Or you thought you were nice and you're quite nasty and mean. It's interesting to see those characters, their whole lives reduced down to very tiny actions. Like should I crawl over here or what if I went up those stairs or what if I get to a telephone? That was the thing I was thinking of: micro decisions leading to terrible consequences."
For Free Fire it was also important that the pain and punishment of a shootout was meted out to all the characters. 'You've got to bring them all down to the same level," explains Wheatley. 'Also to stop them from walking out, escaping. It's not impossible to hit people in a gun battle, as history has proven, but totally wiping someone out is a little harder."
The -70s setting of Free Fire isn't just a stylistic nod to the great action movies of that era, it also deprives the characters of some modern technology that would cause difficulty for any thriller, as Wheatley explains: 'It's a time before mobile phones, that was the whole gag: that they couldn't get help. That stuff works up to about 1990.
Also, there's a bit of film history to it and the socio-political stuff is kind of interesting, it's not the main focus of the film but it's there in the background. I also wanted to get away from the idea of stock criminals and stock mafia, that stuff has just been so mutated by cinema it has less of a meaning these days. None of these guys are those stock characters, they are businessmen or they're international fixers. I didn't want it to be genre sat on top of genre, it's its own thing."
Free Fire was shot over six weeks in a warehouse on the outskirts of Brighton. The clean, empty space was dressed to appear derelict and dangerous. Even with fake debris scattered everywhere it still meant the actors had to spend weeks crawling around in the mess. Adding to the reality of the situation was the decision to eschew digital effects, going for more realistic on-set, in camera physical effects as much as possible.
'I'd say it was 99% practical, the only times we used CG was when it was too close to the actors to be safe, that's like one or two shots, the rest of it's all real," says Wheatley. 'We had something like 500 pyrotechnical detonations and 6000 rounds of ammunition fired. The other thing is sometimes you need to add or replace muzzle flash because the shutter can't catch it, even though it's real. Very rare. We did things in camera whenever we could."
With the location nestled next to a working supermarket, did the explosive effects disturb the neighbours? 'Not for the first month," answers producer Andrew Starke, cryptically. The shoot needed a great deal of planning: 'You have to do this with this type of film, there's a lot to sort out, they have to build things like explosives and bullet hits into the set," explains Wheatley. 'We had storyboards for everything, made maquettes of the set, marked things out with cardboard boxes to check line of sight, etc. The whole film was almost shot in chronological order."
For the soundtrack of Free Fire, Wheatley chose the duo of Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury, fresh from scoring Ex Machina and responsible for an unused soundtrack for Dredd. 'I'd involved (Barrow's band) Portishead in High-Rise and loved their work for Ex Machina. For Free Fire we had them write some music before shooting began, it was massively helpful having it to play in pitch meetings to show what the tone of the movie was going to be," says Wheatley. 'A lot of the film has no music, so when their score is used it's allowed to take over, it's really effective."
Another unexpected boon for the film is the involvement of Martin Scorsese, who, along with his production partner Emma Tillinger Koskoff, is one of Free Fire's executive producers.
'That whole thing is just amazing, when he was shooting Hugo Scorsese checked out a lot of British films, including Kill List. Our agents got in contact with each other and I got to go and meet him in New York. He was everything you'd expect, this ball of energy, knowing everything about movies; he's a cinema god and the greatest living filmmaker. When Free Fire came about we sent him the script and he liked it and got involved. He's had advice along the way. What can I say, he's always right!"
Release Date: April 27th, 2017