Stay on target MovieBob Reviews: FREE FIRE (2017) Filmmaker and animator Ben Wheatley has made a name for himself with pitch-dark films like Kill List and High-Rise. But his newest feature, Free Fire, takes things in a more just-for-fun (though no less brutal or grim) direction; depicting a weapons deal between IRA terrorists and American gun-traffickers that goes bad and turns into a vicious film-length gunfight in an abandoned factor in 1970s Boston. Unlike most Hollywood shootouts, the action here is staged on realistic terms where the violence is exacerbated by few of the characters being especially proficient with their weapons and the fact that gunshots are more likely to cripple or wound than outright kill; leading to a protracted standoff where shooters are occasionally in greater danger from their filthy surroundings or their own clumsiness than their enemies’ gunfire.I recently sat down with Wheatley for a one-on-one interview about the film, on the occasion of its Boston-area U.S. release:Why set a film like this in 1970s Boston?The history, mostly. The history of this period, the IRA coming to buy guns. We’re pretty specific not to mention Boston, though. There’s no mention of it apart from the slight worry about the death sentence in Massachusetts. I was aware of it, but I felt like a lot of crime pictures are set in Boston, and I didn’t want to be another person who just came in and did a movie about the ten where I’m obviously not an expert on it.The Boston accents were well-handled.Oh, cool! Cool. That was a big worry because I know that movies made in Boston – by people from Boston – people complained about the accents. So that’s good.I think Boston will get a kick out of it.That’s good. The last thing I wanted was, y’know, to piss up the leg of Boston.Most films that attempt to do sustained action in a single location are about showing off how many balletic gun-fighting moves can be invented or showcasing proficiency for elaborate scene-geography. This film seems to be on a different wavelength, more about characters and chaos. What were you going for?I wanted to make something that put you right in the middle of it and made you feel that you were there. But also (from what I understood about gunfights, that they hadn’t been represented realistically, not that this is a “documentary” obviously, far from that) from the stuff I’d read it’s far away from the Hollywood idea of people getting shot and dying instantly, or people being competent at all under fire. From reading up on stuff, it feels like you can go to the range and fire all you want, but it’s different when someone is down range firing back at you – unless you’ve got actual nerves of steel, or are some kind of highly-trained Navy SEAL, something like that. It’s messy and chaotic and painful.What does the United State’s “gun culture” look like from outside – from an English perspective?I don’t know… that’s a separate thing, I think, to the film. American politics looks, from and English perspective – I guess the way English politics looks from yours, kind of crazed. I’m always interested in it, and I try to read a lot about American politics (it really dominated our news cycle during your elections) so I like digging into the comments, and it’s just people tearing pieces off one another. That seems to be what the gun discussion is like as well here. It seems to go to the very heart of the country and how is was made.Could a scenario of this type really only be set in the U.S., given the prevalence of firearms here?I don’t think so. I think this is kind of a universal story, if you’re going to look at it in terms of the breakdown of society you could apply it to what’s happening between the U.S. and Syria at this moment; or what’s about to happen in the UK with this snap election that’s been called. It’s that same kind of mutualy assured destruction – hotheaded characters about to tear each other to shreds and not having any concept or understanding how to step back from it. That’s what’s terrifying, and I think any Civil War situation is exactly like this, where people are amped up to the highest level and just will not back down.There isn’t really a “steely-eyed badass” super-competent killer among the characters here, as there often are in other action films. These aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, so to speak – is that intentional?Yeah, it’s not a black hat and white hat sort of film. It’s the rare thing of being a kind of symmetrical war film where you know both sides. Usually, it’s the good guys and the bad guys, they get attacked by the bad guys and mow them all down. That’s the heroism of it, incredible odds, which is most war films to be fair. But this one, you see the both sides, and you like the people on both sides, so it’s sadder and much more impactful when they go.What’s it like to work with Sharlto Copley?Sharlto’s great. He brings everything, so he’ll do the lines and improvisation, and he’ll keep going until he thinks he’s got it right. I really appreciate that. There’s two gamers, basically, with actors: you’ve got them on set, then you get into the edit suite and see what they’ve given you. And in the cold light of day after all the filmmaking is finished, you look at the rushes and go “Wow, they were very generous!”Did you get your first picks for the cast?There was an initial cast – there was a poster for it when we were raising the money – that had Luke Evans and Olivia Wilde on it, but there were scheduling issues, and people dropped out. But otherwise, there wasn’t a great horror. These things happen, and we’re very happy with the people we eventually got.Is it difficult to raise money for a very violent, somewhat unconventional film?It was pretty straightforward. I think the genre element of it and the fun element were enough to override the weird elements of it, in terms of financing. It felt to me like the easiest of all the films we’ve had to finance, and it sold all over the world right away. So from that side of it, we immediately made the money back, that’s a rare thing that just never happens anymore.You’re known for very dark films. Was the intent for Free Fire to be “lighter,” even as it’s still a film about criminals and senseless violence?I think it depends on the movie. I mean, Sightseers was pretty funny. But I did feel like we wanted to make something that met the audience halfway rather than being a bit come hither – which I guess some of our other movies have been. It wears it’s entertainment on the top, so you can watch this film without having to worry about subtext or anything like that. You can take it for the “ride” that it is.Is it difficult to recreate a time period like the 70s, which is so specific to aesthetic and fashion, on a smaller budget?It’s designed to be able to be made, this movie, so that’s why it’s not set in loads of diners or discos or various areas with thousands of people. What an abandoned factory looks like now is not too dissimilar to what an abandoned factory looked like in the 60s, 70s, 50s – that wasn’t by mistake. And costumes? Costumes are costumes, that’s fine.Was the location anywhere near as “distressed” as it looks in the film?That was a clean space!Really? Wow!Oh yeah. Because when you shoot in some place that’s wrecked, you’re going to be hurting the actors – getting dirt and rat piss and viral disease and such, and you wouldn’t know about it until they were suddenly swollen up! So we realized we’d have to build it, and also to make sure that where the pillars and the walls were, it just made more sense.Some of your actors here, like Brie Larson and Armie Hammer, are either cast or often rumored to be cast in big franchise movies like the Marvel and DC films. Is it difficult to cast certain actors now, in this era where people are expected to sign decade-long commitments to these big shared-universe projects?Brie had only just finished Room when she came to us, so that was all in the future for her – Captain Marvel and Kong and all that. So I have not personally been involved in anything where… oh! [laughs] no, I have, what am I talking about!? With [Tom] Hiddleston on High-Rise, there was the call of Avengers back and forth occasionally. We just reschedule it around him; he wasn’t gone for months at a time or anything. It was fine. I think it’s the same as ever, those contracts… it depends on how it works, but I don’t think those contracts exclusively book them out for years, but they have to be careful with what else they take on – they shoot those things for, I think, like five months at a clip. So they’ll disappear for that, yeah.Would you take on one of those Marvel-type projects? Disney calls up and says “We want you to direct Captain Somebody-or-other?”I dunno, it depends what it was or where I sat in it. I’ve never been asked.You’ve just recently secured funding for a “dream project” monster movie called Freakshift – did we hear correctly that you’ve compared the premise to that of [the video game] Doom?.”Yeah – not [Doom] the film, though! The video game! That’s [the film] not my exploration.Read/watch our full review here.