After one-time notorious hardman “Wild” Bill Hayward (Creed-Miles) is released from a long stretch in prison, he returns home to find that his estranged young sons Dean (Poulter) and Jimmy (Williams) have been abandoned by their mother. Despite having planned to start over again elsewhere, Bill is initially forced to stay so as to prevent the boys being taken into care, but gradually finds himself forming a bond with them. Though resisting the urge to return to his old ways, when Jimmy gets mixed up with some of his former associates it’s up to Bill to sort it out…
When news leaked that Guy Ritchie cohort Dexter Fletcher was about to make his directorial debut with an East End gangster movie, you’d have been forgiven for expecting a Lock, Stock-esque geezer-fest. But whilst giving it a wild berth for this very reason is perhaps understandable, anyone doing so would sadly miss out on one of the year’s cinematic highlights thus far. For while the cheeky-chappy yellow poster and presence of Ritchie alumni Jason Flemyng hinted at another one of those done-to-death laddish mob capers, Wild Bill is actually a surprisingly grown-up and disarmingly sweet character piece, with Fletcher and co-writer Danny King crafting an engaging story which is grimy and naturalistic but never depressing.
Of course, we’ve seen the reformed-gangster-going-straight plot before, where said gangster is forced back into his old ways (with Carlito’s Way still the gold standard in this department). But while we know that the eponymous Bill will inevitably snap at some point, it’s still rather satisfying when he does – such is our investment in his journey and reformation. Genuinely moving at times, Fletcher litters the story with a welcome handful of impossibly beautiful moments, such as Bill flying paper planes with his youngest son (Sammy Williams, holding his own) or him watching on as his new family enjoys a Chinese meal. Being nit-picky, it needs a better soundtrack and some of the pseudo street-slang occasionally grates, but the two central performances from Charlie Creed-Miles and Will Poulter are magnificent, while Liz White (still best known from Life On Mars) really makes the most of a generic ‘tart with a heart’ role. Elsewhere, able support is provided by Olivia Williams, Sean Pertwee, Kill List‘s Neil Maskell and Andy Serkis.
Though you’d be forgiven for expecting a Guy Ritchie-esque geezer-fest, Dexter Fletcher’s directorial debut is a surprisingly grown-up and disarmingly sweet character piece. Consider him added to the list of those filmmakers worth keeping an eye on.