After eight years, six months, and three days in prison, former drug dealer / gangster "Wild" Bill (Charlie Creed-Miles) is a free man. With a slightly dazed look on his face, he returns to his home to discover his wife has packed up and flown off to another country, leaving their two boys, 16-year-old Dean (Will Poulter) and 11-year-old Jimmy (Sammy Williams) to fend for themselves. Dean, unsurprisingly, is stand-offish and bitter, angry at both parents for disappearing, but only able to take it out on Bill. Meanwhile, Terry (Leo Gregory), the brother of a man Bill used to work with, is putting the pressure on Bill to leave town. Bill's ready to depart, aware he's not wanted, but when he lets it slip to his parole officer (Olivia Williams) that his children are alone, he's forced to stick around and pretend to be a father figure to prevent his boys from being sent to social services.
Wild Bill is the debut film by British character actor Dexter Fletcher, who wrote and directed this riff on the genre that helped make him famous. Fletcher aims to put a unique spin on an increasingly worn-out genre, shifting away from the witty fun of a Guy Ritchie movie, or even the dry humor of Matthew Vaughn's Layer Cake toward something more serious and thoughtful. Like its protagonist, the film takes a little while to find its footing, but when it finally settles into a groove, it's surprisingly effective, lifting some genuine moments of physical and emotional brutality out of what could have just as easily been a bloody version of Big Daddy.
In terms of tone, Fletcher is not particularly aggressive, allowing moments to play for what they are without much in the way of music or editing to lead the way. This leads to a particularly dry opening stretch where Bill tries to make sense of his new life; as long as Bill has no sense of direction, the film has no sense of direction. Once the social services people arrive, it becomes clear that Fletcher is interested in an unusal take on maturity and responsibility. Some films would go about this the easy way, with Bill forgetting to pick Jimmy up from school or something similar, but Bill adapts fairly quickly, even while Dean continues to give Bill the cold shoulder. Fletcher subtly emphasizes how bad the boys had it by allowing Bill to turn things around without much effort -- a dirty toilet is Bill's first Everest.
In the meantime, the threat of gangster violence hangs over family progress. Terry's boss, Glen (Andy Serkis) remembers Bill's reckless days, and worries. Bill is content working as a sign-waver, but Jimmy is led into the dealer business by his pal, then ends up in debt to Terry when he dumps a bag full of product in a sewer. Fletcher deftly weaves together these threads, as well as Dean's courtship of a pretty hairdresser, Steph (Charlotte Spencer), and Bill's interest in a local call girl, Roxy (Liz White). Despite Bill's best efforts, there's no escape from the gangster life in his current location, forcing him into a situation he's trying desperately to avoid. Wild Bill is, for the most part, not a violent movie, but when push comes to shove (literally), Fletcher doesn't pull any punches.
Near the beginning, Wild Bill could probably use a trim and some additional energy, but Fletcher eventually reveals his cards. He's got a great star in Creed-Miles, who plays the role without much sentiment, yet imbues his performance with warmth just the same. It's a nice trick, blending the tired, soft-spoken ex-convict and the angry, tooth-and-nail gangster into a single character, but Creed-Miles pulls it off, providing a life raft that helps the film across its rough patches. Fans of the London gangster genre won't find the usual mischief here. Instead, this is a complex picture, blending the emotional rollercoaster of parenthood with the threat of bloody, bruising violence. One expects Bill's knuckles and his heart to look roughly the same.
Although caution-tape yellow and black is a nice eye-catching color scheme, Wild Bill's artwork feels a bit '90s, what with giant forced-perspective fists. They've also made the strange choice to take the title off of his fingers. I prefer the "boxing poster"-style artwork used on some alternative UK posters. The disc comes in a standard Blu-Ray case, and there is no insert.
The Video and AUdio
Wild Bill's 2.35:1 1080p AVC presentation is very strong. A fine layer of grain covers the image, which is detailed and offers a nice level of depth. Colors appear natural, although most of Fletcher's palette is subdued, with the exception of Bill's track jacket and subsequent sweaters. Shadows sometimes turn into black crush or appear green rather than gray, and a very faint bit of banding / artifiacting is visible, but otherwise this is a pretty top-notch effort. A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track has less to work with, taking place mostly inside Bill's cramped flat, but it gets the job done until the track really gets to light up during the climactic confrontation scene. Without giving anything away, the mix handles the challenge with flying colors, providing ample directionality and clarity. The one real letdown here? No captions or subtitles are provided on the disc, which really could've been helpful in deciphering some of the film's accents.
A healthy making-of featurette (29:46, HD) is the star of the bonus features on this disc. Although it does contain a number of clips from the film, and it lacks a bit of focus, leaping all over the production talking to cast and crew about any number of topics, it's mostly meat, peeking inside Fletcher's directorial concepts, the ensemble cast, and and the challenges of making the movie on a limited budget.
A reel of fairly inconsequential deleted and extended scenes (12:29, HD) consists mostly of additional lines and moments in scenes that remain in the final cut. The disc wraps up with "Favorite Films" (1:39, HD), a quick-cut montage of the cast and crew naming their picks, and the film's original theatrical trailer.
Those hoping for the next Snatch ought to look elsewhere. Wild Bill is a low-key, thoughtful exploration of father-son relationships and an honest depiction of how tough it is to leave a life of crime. Although Dexter Fletcher's directorial debut has some obvious problems, this bittersweet, bloody family drama easily earns a recommendation.
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