Wild Bill

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Bill Hayward (Creed-Miles), just out of prison, finds his young sons Dean (Poulter) and Jimmy (Williams) abandoned by their mother. To avoid being taken into care, Dean insists Bill stay in the family’s East London flat. He resists going back to crime, bu


What is it with British actors-turned-directors and deadbeat dads? Gary Oldman (Nil By Mouth), Tim Roth (The War Zone) and Paddy Considine (Tyrannosaur) have all made directorial debuts built around hulking hard men who have to get past the violent impulses that have driven their families away. Now, Dexter Fletcher — who co-wrote with Danny King — adds his own take on the sub-genre, with Charlie Creed-Miles, who played the younger brother-in-law in Nil By Mouth, promoted to failing father and new, fresh faces as the put-upon kids.

Set in a rainy, washed-out London of council high-rises, villains’ boozers, greasy spoon caffs and the mushrooming Olympic stadium — where a 15-year-old can put on a hard-hat and work off the books to provide for his younger brother — Wild Bill is an archetypal ex-con-staying-straight drama (cf: Carlito’s Way, but without the big money). The formerly Wild Bill, prematurely grey and haunted by his past misdeeds (his onetime routine of an evening described as “nine pints, two lines and a fight”), tries to keep his temper and stay away from the old mates he used to deal drugs with. Shocked by the vehemence of his eldest son’s determination that he stay out of his life — Will Poulter has the angriest eyebrows in British cinema, and can make his whole face look like a fist — Bill begins the process of reform almost aggressively, just to further annoy Dean.

The film is studded with British faces, some in little more than matey cameos, all bringing something to the table: Liz White (making something of a stock tart-with-a-heart role), Jason Flemyng, Olivia Williams, Andy Serkis (as a council estate Mr. Big), Sean Pertwee, Leo Gregory (the main villain — acting tough but palpably still afraid of his old head-breaking associate), Jaime Winstone, Neil Maskell and Iwan Rheon (a gang-talking twat). However, the breakout of the film is Poulter, on the brink of moving up to adult roles but most affecting when his prematurely grown-up, responsible character has to struggle with ordinary teenage trying-to-impress-a-girl business he hasn’t had time to learn.

Yes, it’s another East End gangster movie/dysfunctional family saga, but it’s also a fresh, engaging debut feature, with an underlying suspense as we wait for the wild man to revert to pool-cue-wielding form and a streak of sweet, funny sentiment always i