FILM REVIEW: Wild Bill (15)

Actor Dexter Fletcher makes an assured directorial debut with a gritty tale of retribution and reconciliation, shot largely on the mean streets of east London.

While there may be dodgy geezers and explosions of graphic violence, not to mention some cheeky one-liners (“The usual: 10 pints, two grams and a punch-up?”), Wild Bill isn’t another tepid crime caper in the mould of Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels.

Fletcher and co-writer Danny King fashion a story of familial strife and bad choices that propels the narrative into the same dark realms as the Michael Caine revenge thriller Harry Brown.

Charlie Creed-Miles and Will Poulter anchor the film with terrific performances as a penitent parent and enraged son, torn apart by a lengthy prison spell.

“I felt bad about missing your birthday,” pleads the ex-con father.

“Which one?” coldly snaps the teenager.

At 98 minutes, it’s an exceedingly lean first effort and even though some of the characters are undernourished, Wild Bill marks Fletcher as a talent to watch behind the camera now as well as in front of it.

After an eight-year stretch, Bill Hayward (Creed-Miles) is granted parole and he nervously returns to the tower block he shared with his family.

Bill discovers that his ex-wife has abandoned their two children: 15-year-old Dean (Poulter) and 11-year-old Jimmy (Sammy Williams).

The older boy is working illegally on a building site to keep food on the table.

Bill accidentally reveals to his case worker (Olivia Williams) that his boys have been home alone for months and social workers Helen (Jaime Winstone) and John (Jason Flemyng) descend with the intention of taking the minors into care.

So Dean hurriedly blackmails his father into staying around long enough to keep the authorities off their back.

Bill reluctantly agrees to play happy families with local girl Roxy (Liz White).

However, when one of the lads gets into trouble with thug Terry (Leo Gregory) and his goons (Neil Maskell, Iwan Rheon), Bill must risk everything to protect his emotionally battered brood.

Opening with a series of tracking shots of the central character leaving prison, Wild Bill quickly establishes the boys’ predicament and Dean’s unwillingness to let Bill swan back into his life.

Wounds are gradually salved with the minimum sickly sentiment, and Fletcher finds moments of beauty amid the grime such as a lovely scene of Bill and Jimmy throwing paper aeroplanes off their balcony.

The screenplay is laced with mordant humour, like when a pint-sized messenger confirms a rendezvous time with Bill and Dean asks suspiciously, “What does he want?”

“Shooting!” replies Bill with an impish grin.

Guns and baseball bats are out in force for the grim denouement that replicates a classic western saloon showdown with a stand-off in a deserted boozer.

Two pints of freshly spilt blood, please.

By Damon Smith

:: SWEARING :: SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 7/10

Released: March 23 (UK & Ireland), 98 mins