We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 6 Sep 6:25PM
When 'Wild' Bill Hayward (Charlie Creed-Miles) is released from prison after eight years inside, he must play happy families long enough to keep social services away from his sons.
Yes, you've seen a million low budget British movies that deal with similar subject matter to Wild Bill. A geezer fresh out of prison faces obstacles. Local hard men give him grief. Bad stuff happens. But to dismiss it because the subject matter is familiar is a bit like saying that you've seen lots of action movies about averting disaster, or teen movies set in a high school, or horror films involving a man with a knife, and that you therefore won't be watching any more films that repeat this basic material. It's not the what, it's the how.
The 'how' is what makes Wild Bill stand out. This East End yarn, which tells of "Wild" Bill Hayward and his post-prison struggles to keep parole officers, social workers and gangsters off his and his son's backs isn't simply a tourist's excuse to enjoy the grit of criminal class struggles from a safe distance. Rather than waiting for the next vicariously thrilling punch-up to break out, you're invested in these characters. You care passionately about them, root for them, and are shown without over-indulgence exactly how it is a person could end up trapped in Bill's life.
None of which is to say this is not a colourful film packed with incident and some absolutely cracking dialogue delivered with zest by a core cast of three brilliant performers. It's really very difficult to pick a favourite between Charlie Creed Miles as the title character, Will Poulter as the teenage son determined to be the dad he never had to his younger brother and Sammy Williams as that younger sibling who seems likely to follow in his dad's faltering footsteps.
Beautifully shot by George Richmond, Wild Bill also dodges the cliche that low budget British films about dodgy geezers have to look horrible. There's an artful attention to capturing the light of the East London sky, illuminating the impermanence of the landscapes Bill and his sons inhabit. The council-owned housing and the working environment of the building site all serve to underscore how flimsy and transitional the backdrop these lives play out against really is - nobody has a stake in anything - with Bill even at one point working as a temporary human billboard holding a depressing sign advertising local bargains. But Wild Bill wears this stuff lightly, and is just as enjoyable a comedy of manners as it is veiled social commentary or indeed London-set Western.
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