Wild Bill: Film Review

A sentimental but effective addition to Britain's geezer-gangster genre.

A British crime drama with touches of wry comedy from director Dexter Fletcher stars Charlie Creed-Miles as an ex-con reconnecting with his two sons.

SAN SEBASTIAN -- Tough exteriors conceal a heart of mushy gold in Wild Bill, a British crime drama-comedy in which an ex-con belatedly discovers the pains and joys of fatherhood upon his release from jail after an eight-year stretch. A cut above the general run of London gangland sagas, distinguished by its sharp dialogue, hard-knock humor and some fine performances, the film took the Youth Audience Award at San Sebastian, proving that its Cockney charms aren't solely for domestic consumption.
Too small scale to be more than a middling prospect at UK box offices — its reception at November's London Film Festival should give a decent clue to its appeal — the film should play well on DVD and TV. The occasional crunching violence, strong language and sexual content make it suitable only for older teenagers, with blokes in their 30’s and 40’s the proper target audience. Overseas chances are tough to call, although director/co-writer Dexter Fletcher's long-time associations with established directors Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn won't do it any harm.

Now 45, Fletcher has been a recognizable supporting player in British movies for several decades. He debuted as Baby Face in Alan Parker's Bugsy Malone (1976) with several high-profile TV stints to his credit including cult favorite Press Gang (1989). Indeed, there can't be many first-time directors who've worked with David Lynch (The Elephant Man), Derek Jarman (Caravaggio), Ken Russell (Gothic), Mike Leigh (Topsy-Turvy) and Michael Winterbottom (Jude).

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But it's Fletcher's collaborations with Ritchie and Vaughn on the likes of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Layer Cake that feed most potently into Wild Bill, a project whose heartfelt motivation is spelled out by a closing title card dedicating the movie to Fletcher's own recently deceased dad, Steve.
Relations between fathers and sons are the strong suit of a script — co-written by Danny King and Tim Cole — which includes perhaps too many peripheral characters and subplots for its own good. Bill (Charlie Creed-Miles) emerges from prison to find his sons, 16-year-old Dean (Will Poulter) and 11-year-old Jimmy (Sammy Williams), living on their own in a scuzzy flat after their mother moved to Spain with her new boyfriend. Having had minimal contact with the lads since going “inside,” Bill is himself keen to get away to a new life in Scotland, but various circumstances and contrivances result in the trio having to live together as an awkward family unit. Complications and frictions quickly ensue.

After Son of Rambow (2007) and Chronicles of Narnia - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, 18-year-old Poulter confirms that he's a teen with terrific, intense screen presence. He more than holds his own with the more experienced Creed-Miles and the duo's edgy chemistry gives the scenes involving Bill and Dean a potent punch. Creed-Miles exudes an anything-for-a-quiet-life resignation, gradually giving way to an overdue connection with his emotions and also, when push comes to shove, a rediscovery of his youthful bravado and capacity for two-fisted rage.

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The subtlety of the characterization and performance is in contrast to some of the more broadly played supporting turns, where the script, which thankfully doesn't overdo the Wild West references and parallels, errs towards cliché and caricature. Various established British actors turn up in cameos with Olivia Williams particularly game under a frizzy coiffure as Bill's parole-officer, and Andy Serkis all slow-talking, nattily-attired menace as the district's Mr Big.
An unapologetic paean to the importance of fatherhood and positive male role models for growing boys, Wild Bill does lay on the mawkishness a little thick at times "They're my boys; I'm their dad!" beams a blood-spattered Bill just before the final freeze-frame.

As with the films and TV of Shane Meadows, the general tone of breezy dry humor keeps things more than engaging. There's also a niftily topical element in the way Fletcher sets the action within sight of the East End's vast Olympic Stadium under construction. "Boom times for everyone in the borough," grins a criminal, anticipating a boost in business from the upcoming jamboree.

Venue: San Sebastian Film Festival
Production company: 20ten Media
Cast: Charlie Creed-Miles, Will Poulter, Sammy Williams, Liz White
Director: Dexter Fletcher
Screenwriters: Dexter Fletcher, Danny King, Tim Cole
Producers: Dexter Fletcher, Tim Cole, Sam Tromans
Director of photography: George Richmond
Production designer: Murray McKeown
Music: Christian Henson
Costume designer: Matthew Price
Editor: Stuart Gazzard
Sales: 20ten Media, London
No rating, 98 minutes