Friday, October 21, 2011

London Film Fest 2011 Day 9 - WILD BILL

Jimmy and Dean fending for themselves in a Newham council flat.
There are those of us of a certain age who have grown up with Dexter Fletcher. As kids we watched him as the cute wanna be tough guy "Babyface" in Alan Parker's delightful BUGSY MALONE. As teens we watched him in the TV show "Press Gang" playing a cool American wannabe journo.  In our errant twenties we watched him plan a heist in Guy Ritchie's superb caper flick, LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, and more recently, we've seen him cover up for Robert De Niro's cross-dressing pirate in Matthew Vaughn's STARDUST.  This familiarity bought Dexter Fletcher a great deal of goodwill from the London Film Fest Audience who watched his debut directorial effort.  And the good news is that the film is really worth watching, despite a somewhat predictable plot once the initial set-up is in place.  

WILD BILL is set in the same London of Guy Ritchie's flicks - the East London of drug-dealers, hard-men and hard-ups in council houses.  But it has far more heart, far more subtlety, and is far better observed.  In other words, you gain a whole lot of authenticity and insight, while losing none of the comedy. In fact, one of the great comedic charms of the film is realising that Fletcher has discovered the new "babyface" -  a young kid called Sammy Williams who plays Jimmy - a little kid with an hilariously foul mouth, but also a lot of vulnerability.

As the movie opens we meet Dean (Will Poulter) and Jimmy living alone in a filthy council flat, with Dean taking on the grim responsibility of a father and the age of just fifteen. Their mother has abandoned them and their father, "Wild Bill", a violent drug pusher and addict, has been in prison for eight years. Bill emerges a reformed man - he wants a clean break in Scotland - but isn't reformed enough to want to take care of his kids.  Problem is, he has to stick around long enough to fool social services, so that Dean and Jimmy aren't put into Care.  What follows is a predictable family reconciliation, complete with a "tart with a heart" character, and an aggressive local mafiosi threatening Bill's conditions of parole.  

From left to right, Sammy Williams (Jimmy); Will Poulter (Dean);
 Charlie Creed-Miles (Bill); and Dexter Fletcher (Writer-Director)
introduce WILD BILL at the London Film Festival
But the film is elevated above its narrative clichés thanks to its genuinely sympathetic characters, the whip-smart dialogue and the fact that Fletcher doesn't flinch from poking holes in the Guy-Ritchie-style myths of East End hard-men.  Many a time we see a guy giving it all that, but turning and running at a key point, and the annoying Ali-D style white boy, Pill (Iwan Rheon) gets a verbal slapping too. I also love the fact that where ROCKNROLLA (a film I still liked) made heavy work of contrasting the poverty of the East End with the redevelopment of Stratford, Fletcher shows the same contrast with much more subtlety. It's enough to show the view of the new Olympic village from the balconies of crumbling social housing - it speaks powerfully enough of the issues facing British society - without being crass or simplistic.  

In front of the camera, I'm full of admiration for Charlie Creed-Miles who has to portray a nasty selfish character at the start of the film but also make his road to responsibility seem credible, and to Sammy Williams who steals every scene he's in.  Behind the camera, George Richmond's lensing use the Arri Alexa is crisp, and the sound-track is superb.  Overall, this is an assured debut directorial effort from Fletcher, deftly balancing raucous humour and pathos - and I can't wait to see what he does next.

WILD BILL played London 2011.

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