From the sheriff's badge tattoo on Charlie Creed-Miles’ chest to the East End saloon where “10 pints, two grams and a punch up” used to be his order, Wild Bill declares itself loudly and proudly as a tower-block western.
It splashes the genre’s motifs across an engaging tale of crime, family and redemption, with a contemporary lick of paint to keep the moss away.
Bill’s family is down to two sons, 15-year-old Dean (Will Poulter) and 11-year-old Jimmy (Sammy Williams), surviving on their own after mum buggered off to Spain with a boyfriend; the resentful Dean wants fresh-out-of-nick Bill to stick around long enough to fool child services, while truant, “munted” Jimmy is on a felonious path into the local crack posse.
Playing out in the shadow of Olympics construction, this eye-openingly good debut feature from Dexter Fletcher drapes father-son story dynamics in a shroud of easy, natural humour and nimbly sidesteps the clichés that saddle most council-estate crim-coms.
It’s got a great cast too. Even Brit-flick stalwarts Jaime Winstone, Sean Pertwee and Fletcher’s Jason Flemyng don’t spoil the pudding.
Meanwhile, Andy Serkis as a dandified Mr Big, Olivia Williams as a frizz-haired social worker, Liz White (The Woman In Black) as a tart with a heart, and Leo Gregory, Neil Maskell and Iwan Rheon as the doltish drug gang who warn Bill this town ain’t big enough for the lot of them, all deliver attention-grabbing moments.
But this is Creed-Miles’ film from start to finish. He’s like Unforgiven’s William Munny, the lone wolf resisting attempts to pull him back into his violent ways until reprehensible others force out his “wild” side, albeit a cuddlier creation and the emotional lynchpin the film needs.
As Wild Bill trots to its inevitable showdown, Fletcher tosses in a spot of visual poeticism and social commentary, but his biggest achievement is making us dead keen to see what he does next.
Full of quirky, absorbing characters and performances, Fletcher’s debut is a hugely enjoyable East End western and a lesson on how to avoid the excesses of the Brit-crim-com.