Before watching Dexter Fletcher’s directorial debut, Wild Bill, it is easy to write it off as yet another Guy Richie wannabe, another run of the mill British gangster flick. The trailer highlights violence, excess and girls, seemingly setting it up to be another Lock, Stock … rip off. How surprising then that it turns out to be a considered, heartfelt and quite brilliant tale of redemption in gangland London.

We follow “Wild” Bill Hayward (Charlie Creed-Miles) as he is released from eight years in prison to find his two sons, Dean (Will Poulter) and Jimmy (Sammy Williams) abandoned by their mother and in squalor. Meanwhile, Bill’s old gangster friends, led by Terry (Leo Gregory), are both tempting him back to his old life, while trying to prevent him from stepping onto their turf. Despite gangster elements, Wild Bill is truly a character study, a look into the lives of this unconventional family, and a dive into fatherhood and acceptance of the responsibility that it brings. Sure, there is swearing and violence, and drug dealers and prostitutes and fights, but these are all sideshows to the main attraction: the relationship between Bill and his sons.

The cast are all exceptional. Creed-Miles fronts the film with authority, changing gear from a drunk, to a loving father, to gangland hard man with ease. Will Poulter and Sammy Williams deserve special recognition for their performances as Dean and Jimmy respectively. Poulter brings a quiet intensity to a character riddled in angst, whilst the younger Williams shows the kind of adaptability in his role that makes him one to watch for the future.

Dexter Fletcher shows calm control and a steady hand in his debut. He deserves credit for drawing brilliant performances from the cast, but it was behind the camera where he was always going to be judged. Fletcher steps up to the challenge, adding moments of calmness in the mostly bleak outlook of Wild Bill. In particular, a shot which follows a paper aeroplane flying down from a high rise block of flats is quite beautiful, a nuanced sequence which acts as a surprising cinematic highlight.

Surprising is a key word when discussing Wild Bill. A film which so easily could have been a forgettable gangster piece becomes an engaging, thought provoking and entertaining experience. Fletcher has created a different breed of British gangster film, one in which characters and their experiences come before the swearing, guns and posing. If you were expecting Snatch 2, then be warned. If you want a film full of heart, then Wild Bill is for you.

DVD extras: These include a selection of extended and deleted scenes which add little to the piece, a run of the mill “making of” with interviews of the cast and crew, and a bizarre feature where the actors tell us their favourite films. There is nothing special here, but nothing out of the ordinary or wrong either.

Wild Bill is released on the 23 July 2012 on DVD and Blu-ray.

Watch the trailer: