Topical and entertaining, Dexter Fletcher’s directorial début, Wild Bill is an independent film that appears rough around the edges, but has a lot of heart.
Fletcher’s name holds a lot of respect in the British film industry. He is an actor with an immense amount of big and small screen experience, so his directorial début was always going to be one to look out for. Although he doesn’t steer far from his comfort zone here, but we’ve got to say, despite Wild Bill‘s inoffensive and domestic approach, his move behind the camera has given us a light but thought-provoking film that is both engaging and funny.
Bill Hayward (Charlie Creed-Miles) comes home on parole after eight years in jail, to find his sons Dean (Will Poulter) and Jimmy (Sammy Williams) are fending for themselves, after their mother abandoned them for Spain. Dean, who has been working and raising Jimmy for the last nine months, blackmails his dad into sticking around long enough to get social services off their case.
Bill barely knows his kids and isn’t interested in staying, but as he immerses himself in the role of Dad, he begins to find he quite likes it. This is despite having the gang he went down for on his case. And with them now using his 11-year-old as a drug runner, Bill learns the hard way how to parent his kids, and stop them making the same mistakes he did.
The director is a veteran of acting in this genre, so it comes as no shock that he has lived up to this expectation behind camera. His first role was as Baby Face in the US hit, Bugsy Malone, a film that cast children as adult 1930s gangsters armed with custard filled splurge guns. It was cheeky and fun. In a striking contrast to the role that started Fletcher’s career, the kids in Wild Bill are in a far more serious situation.
As it is, Wild Bill is nothing we haven’t seen before. The cast of characters are a standard staple of this genre. Bill is misguided and has a habit of getting himself into trouble, while the gangsters are a band of rough hoodlums who deal drugs. Alongside them is the promiscuous Roxy (Liz White), a woman with a good heart who has fallen in with a bad crowd. Even the two sons tick all the familiar boxes. Dean, despite his anger and no nonsense exterior, is a genuine and nice 15-year-old boy, who works hard to keep his brother’s life comfortable, while Jimmy is naive and easily led.
It’s the warm emotional message and the cast that make it a decent watch. Will Poulter (Son Of Rambow) and Sammy Williams draw much of the attention and are convincing in their roles as brothers, despite their young ages. Charlie Creed-Miles is also perfectly cast as their hapless father. In fact, the entire ensemble perform more than adequately in their limited roles.
Surprisingly the film isn’t quite the gritty, working class British snapshot we might expect in this urban setting. Fletcher has taken a fairly light-hearted approach to a genre that can take itself too seriously. Intended or not, the gangsters have hardly any menace about them. It felt at times like Andy Serkis‘s Glen and Leo Gregory‘s Terry were having a little bit too much fun pretending to be tough talkers. Although this won’t stop your heart skipping a beat every time you see Jimmy in trouble.
I was most impressed with the use of setting. The film takes place against the backdrop of the Olympic Park, and Dexter is making a clear comment about the state of the rich and poor in the capital. Dean works on the site, just one of the poor Londoners living alongside the billion pound project. That said considering the nature of the film, where children work for older hoodlums and carrying drugs, it perhaps isn’t a particularly favourable advertisement for the Games. But then the Olympians might see something to admire in the obstinate, quick-thinking spirit of these young people
Wild Bill is out on DVD and Blu-Ray now!