The trailer and posters for Wild Bill would indicate it’s yet another crass guns and geezers movie, the latest in a long line of sub Guy Ritchie knock-offs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Wild Bill is in fact a superb directorial debut from Ritchie affiliate Dexter Fletcher, leaving the tiresome ‘reddies in the boot of the motor’ attitude far behind and instead focusing its efforts on developing a clutch of compelling characters.
Chief among them is the eponymous Bill himself (a graceful, understated Charlie Creed-Miles). At the start of the movie, Bill is released from prison after a long stretch, and he returns to London to re-connect with his two sons. Dean (Will Poulter) and Jimmy (Sammy Williams) have been fending for themselves since their mother walked out, and Bill isn’t exactly greeted with enthusiasm. But when Jimmy is sucked into the network of small-time local drug dealers on their London council estate, Bill realises that he must take action to prevent his son going the same way he did.
If the thought of another grimy British council estate movie has you running for the hills, you can rest easy. Fletcher’s laid-back, observational style owes a great deal to Shane Meadows, observing those living on the urban fringes of society with compassion, affectionate humour and pathos. There’s a real sense that Fletcher understands the environment in which the movie takes place and although the characters are somewhat clichÃ©d, his confidence in the terrific ensemble helps engage us in the drama.
One assumes that many of the supporting cast signed on simply because of Fletcher’s reputation -the likes of Olivia Williams and Jaime Winstone flesh out the scenery with virtual bit-parts. However, the central roles that resonate most, with Creed-Miles delivering a quietly moving performance as a man atoning for past mistakes. The terrific Poulter meanwhile delivers on the promise of Son of Rambow and Narnia, wonderfully confident as the older son who’s wise beyond his years.
The quality of the acting extends to the likes of Liz White as local hooker Roxy (again downplaying what could have been a hideous stereotype) and Andy Serkis (making a two scene impression as a steely eyed mobster). Less well-known but making equally vital impressions are Williams as the vulnerable younger brother, Charlotte Spencer as Dean’s sparky love interest Steph, and Iwan Rheon (from E4’s Misfits) as a hilarious, street-talking drug dealer.
All of the performers are aided by a sharp script that subtly embraces the clichÃ©s of the Wild West, as the title suggests: when Bill arrives back in London, the saloon is substituted for a local pub, cowboys for boozy patrons. It’s also commendably restrained and intelligent: a potentially unsettling scenario involving two key characters of varying ages is soon turned on its head due to the unexpected maturity of one of said participants.
And although the film does turn violent towards the end, it never stoops to the level of infantile attitude or gratuitous bloodshed. Instead, Fletcher keeps his eye on the prize throughout, and what resonates in the end is the burgeoning humanity in Creed Miles’ character. Very few debuts are as accomplished as this -one anticipates what Fletcher will come up with next.