movie film review | chris tookey

Wild Bill

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  Wild Bill Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
7.38 /10
Charlie Creed-Miles , Will Poulter , Liz White
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Directed by: Dexter Fletcher
Written by: Dexter Fletcher, Danny King

Released: 2011
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: UK
Colour: C
Length: 96

Enjoyable and engaging.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Just when many of us wanted never to suffer through another British gangster film, along comes the best of the lot – a picture that sums up everything that’s good about British movie-making. It’s quirky, warm and charming. It’s also well acted, beautifully written and superbly directed.

Like Billy Elliot before it, it inventively recycles dozens of tired old cliches to come up with something fresh and exciting. There’s unlikely to be a more entertaining British film this year.

Charlie Creed-Miles (pictured left) gives the performance of his life as “Wild Bill”, a once violent, now befuddled criminal just released after eight years in prison. He drops in on his old council flat in East London, and discovers that his wife has gone on permanent vacation to Spain with her new squeeze.

They’ve abandoned Bill’s understandably angry fifteen year-old son Dean (Will Poulter, the outstanding young actor from Son of Rambow and Voyage of the Dawn Treader) and his wayward kid brother Jimmy (Sammy Williams, pictured right, a diminutive urchin who made brief but memorable contributions to Attack The Block).

Dean has taken on the burdens of single fatherhood, doing a cash-in-hand labouring job at the Olympic velodrome and cooking to lower than Masterchef standards. When Jimmy asks what’s for dinner, Dean tells him “toast”.

Dean wants nothing to do with the dad who deserted them. This doesn’t bother Bill, as he’s planning to go up north and work on the oil rigs. Children are a nuisance, right?

The trouble is that, once Bill has shown up, the social services – in the form of Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng and Jaime Winston - start trying to put the family together again. This gives the plot comic impetus, with the authorities’ keenness to help contrasting with their clients’ extreme reluctance to help themselves, but it adds to the realism as well. Too many British films act as though the welfare state doesn’t exist.

So Dean blackmails dad into staying on a week or two, long enough to ensure the two boys aren’t taken into care.

The big problem is that Bill hasn’t got a clue about fatherhood or family. Creed-Miles’ face is a study in misery as he puts himself through the hell of trying to be “normal”.

Creed-Miles is funny as a transparently hopeless loser – stupid, selfish and feckless - forced by events to undergo a process of redemption. He’s helped by a script, by Dexter Fletcher and Danny King, that crackles with cockney wit and has its heart firmly in the right place. It reminded me of the best episodes of Minder.

There’s a serious side to the film, too. The picture shows the redevelopment of Stratford while making clear that not much has changed below the surface. Without preaching, it’s a more effective social document than many films that wear their agenda on their sleeves.

This is a male-dominated picture that doesn’t avoid cliche – there’s even a tart with a heart – but Liz White manages to endow that potentially stereotypical role with an attractive quirkiness, as does Charlotte Spencer playing a teenage femme fatale and single mother.

Wild Bill has the energy that made Guy Ritchie’s first two films stand out, but doesn’t fall prey to the kind of heartless flippancy that ran through Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.

Too many British films, before and after Ritchie, have been seduced by the camaraderie of gangsterism. They trivialise its effects and glamorise its violence.

Wild Bill has its share of swear-words and crudities, but it’s moral. This picture has no doubt at all who are the bad guys, though it’s happy to acknowledge that some cops are a little too in love with being menacing (Sean Pertwee has an effective cameo as one) and criminals aren’t always as tough as they pretend to be – there’s a lovely, de-glamorised punch-up towards the end, where one of the bad guys makes his apologies and leaves, explaining that violence isn’t really his cup of tea.

This debut film deserves to make 46 year-old Dexter Fletcher a bankable director, especially if next time he can step outside his comfort zone and try something more innovative. His is a familiar face. He starred as a child in Bugsy Malone, and as a teenager in TV’s Press Gang. His career as an adult actor has seen highs and lows, and his misfortune has been to give his best performances in mediocre films, notably The Rachel Papers and The Raggedy Rawney, which were not widely seen.

Behind the camera, he shows real star quality. His biggest asset is War Horse cinematographer George Richmond, who does an excellent job within the budgetary limits, and ensures this never looks like telly.

The title hints that the East End is the new Wild West, and some framings deliberately echo Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns. As the camera tracks past the tower blocks of east London, they are like a shambolic parody of Utah’s Monument Valley in John Ford westerns.

Thematically, the film owes its greatest debt to the classic Shane, for it’s essentially the story of a father-son relationship. Creed-Miles and Poulter are great in their scenes together, and if there is any justice both will be remembered in the awards of 2013 – along with Mr Fletcher. In the meantime, please don’t miss this refreshingly talented new film.

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