Packed out with a quality British cast, this is a star vehicle for the talents of Charlie Creed-Miles, a superb character actor here emerging as a bona fide star with a performance of honesty, integrity and plausibility.
As criminal low-life Bill Hayward, fresh out of prison and a breath away from falling back into his old ways, Creed-Miles embarks on a lengthy journey towards maturity, fatherhood and responsibility when he is forced to offer support to his two boys, aged 11 and 15, in the flat they live in alone. Bill’s one-time partner has deserted them.
But Bill is not welcome. Struggling to fend off the attentions of his old gang, stay out of prison, romance a local tart and begin providing for his boys, he finds himself swamped by a crisis of confidence.
The combination of social services, his elder son’s disgust and his younger son’s proximity to the local drug lord galvanises him into action.
A traditional Western set within London’s East End, Wild Bill is filled with sly humour and that familiar cockney vernacular that audiences have come to know and love. But Dexter Fletcher, the actor making his debut as filmmaker, deftly sidesteps most of the potential clichés and instead presents an outstanding movie that is equally scary and laugh-out-loud funny.
Bill’s route from deadbeat dad to caring father may be a little hard to swallow at first but Creed-Miles’ approach is genuine, flawed and wholly believable. His gradual – perhaps inexorable – slide back into his old world comes via his younger boy’s recruitment as a drug mule by dead-eyed drug peddler ‘T’, played with relish by Leo Gregory.
There is more than a touch of Sergio Leone about Wild Bill: the lone gun back in town, the bad guys squaring up for a battle they know is coming, the shadowy Mr Big (Andy Serkis in psycho mode again), the innocents watching from the sidelines. Thankfully Fletcher casts Bill not as a superhero but as a man-child past his prime who, having tasted jail has no stomach to return. Thus his choice is a clear one: his children or his old cronies. Violence is kept to a minimum but when it comes it is bone-crunchingly real.
A film about waifs and strays, heroes and villains, Wild Bill is an impressive debut from Fletcher and marks out Charlie Creed-Miles as a performer to watch out for. This is as good as modern indie British cinema gets.