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Free Fire

Essex-born filmmaker Ben Wheatley gets into a Reservoir Dogs groove with this giddily entertaining shoot-out set in a 1978 Boston warehouse that draws blood with breathless action sequences as well as verbal grenades. The trigger-happy free-for-all becomes wearisome before the final bullet reaches its intended target, and sinewy subplots to connect characters sometimes feel contrived, but as an exercise in controlled mayhem, Free Fire hits more than it misses. Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump have keen ears for snappy dialogue, whether it be one gunman petulantly refusing to lay down his weapon - "It's too late, I've been insulted!" - or another thug, high on heroin to dull the pain of a swollen black eye, likening his appearance to someone who has recently enjoyed sexual congress with "a reluctant panda bear". A rich vein of jet black humour courses beneath the surface of each exchange of gunfire and the script delights in upending gender stereotypes by casting Oscar winner Brie Larson as the solitary woman in a hyperviolent world of testosterone-crazed fools. "We can't all be nice girls," she snarls at one associate, aiming her revolver squarely between his terror-filled eyes. Chris (Cillian Murphy) and fellow Irishman Frank (Michael Smiley) need to source several cases of M16 rifles to arm their IRA brethren. They head to an abandoned warehouse to complete a deal flanked by hired muscle Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) and Stevo (Sam Riley), under the escort of suave American middle man Ord (Armie Hammer) and his sassy associate, Justine (Larson). The suppliers are emotionally volatile South African dealer Vernon (Sharlto Copley) and his Black Panther associate Martin (Babou Ceesay), who have drafted in two stooges - Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor) - to even the numbers. The exchange goes sour when Vernon attempts to palm off AR-70 assault rifles in place of the promised weapons. Tempers fray and Justine deflects sexist barbs aimed to undermine her position. "I'm IIFM - in it for myself," she calmly reminds both sides. When bullets fly as a result of an unfortunate personal connection, fragile alliances disintegrate, rivalries resurface and Vernon loses his slender grasp on reality. "He was misdiagnosed as a child genius and never got over it," wearily notes Justine. Free Fire sets out its action-oriented intentions, reducing most of the cast to the shuffling wounded, who crawl around the warehouse floor with blood seeping from bullet wounds as they search for an exit from the mayhem (other than an early grave). Copley overacts with wild abandon, largely to comic effect, while Murphy and Larson spark a simmering on-screen chemistry that thankfully never boils over into a superfluous dalliance. The film's enduring romance is between hot-headed men and their loaded weapons. Unlike many of the characters, that love never dies.