Ripped from the front pages of the Hackney Gazette and displaying all the visceral energy of a film by that pauper prince of the tabloid helmers, Sam Fuller, Bullet Boy throbs with restless energy. It's grainy, gritty, authentic. It's a desperate wail for help at a time when the words "British" and "gun culture" sadly belong in the same sentence. And its heart-on-bloodied-sleeve conviction and smoking-gun editing recall the American black cinema of the late '80s and early '90s.
Okay, so comparisons to Do The Right Thing, Menace II Society and Straight Out Of Brooklyn are perhaps too favourable, but Saul Dibb's docu-drama is one helluva calling card. Shot on 16mm by Michael Winterbottom's regular lensman Marcel Zyskind, it fuses handheld camerawork, semi-improvised dialogue and (largely) non-professional actors in search of veracity. The plot, meanwhile, is loose and ragged, as soulful ex-con Ricky (So Solid Crew's Ashley `Asher D' Walters) finds himself reeled into an escalating war of tit-for-tat violence despite his best intentions. Going straight isn't easy in a world where loyalties must be honoured, debts paid and reputations preserved.
Bullet Boy recognises said code as dud macho bullshit passed from generation to generation, but it also admits there are no easy answers. So while Ricky's 12-year-old brother (Luke Fraser) is inevitably lured to the fake glamour of his brother's gun, the film opts to park its `time-to-break-the-cycle' message and avoid skidding into pompous moralising. Which is more than can be said for John Singleton's Boyz In The Hood, Bullet Boy's keenest influence.
Shot in and around Hackney's infamous Murder Mile, as bursts of source music (rap, garage, reggae, soul) blast from tenement windows and car stereos, Dibb's debut also makes great use of its locations: cramped housing estates, wide open marshes, a forlorn ice rink. Local teenagers are sucked into the action as the filmmakers literally pound the streets to capture the time, the place, the circumstances, the truth - making Bullet Boy a movie about everyday kids, not pseudo gangsters. It's a pivotal difference that makes for a crucial movie.
So Solid Crew's Ashley Walters excels in a firebrand social drama that smoulders with menace. If only all Brit flicks were this vital.