It was therefore an unexpected delight to find that once you shake off the criminal elements of the story, underneath is charming, funny, well written family drama with an emphasis on characterisation over any Ritchie-lite shenanigans.
'Wild' Bill Hayward is released from prison having served eight years for a number of offences. He has no desire to go back and plans to go up to Scotland to work on the rigs. However when he takes a quick trip home to Stratford, Bill finds his two estranged sons living alone after their mum left them to go off with another guy. Dean, 15, works on building sites for the Olympic venues while Jimmy, 11, gets into trouble at school and on the estate. Bill is forced to play the loving, devoted father in order to fool social services, but his potential reconciliation with his children might come at a price as old faces from the past threaten to lure him back into the seedy world of drugs and violence.
Wild Bill's greatest strength lies in the performances. With Fletcher primarily being an actor, he instinctively knows how to bring the best out of his cast. Charlie Creed-Miles, one of those faces that you know but cannot name, shines in what is arguably his first proper lead role. 'Mild' Bill's hangdog expression signifies a man beaten down by the world but there is always a glimmer in his eyes that threatens the return of the famous Wild one. The rapport between him and the kids is the real heart and soul of the movie, instantly bonding with the younger Jimmy but kept at a distance by the untrusting Dean, an excellent Poulter, who was forced into acting like an adult - but his natural youth comes through in scenes with a young girl on the estate. Liz White also makes the most of her role of Roxy, the local tart with a heart.
Fletcher must be a very likeable guy because he has pulled in a lot of favours by rounding out the cast with small turns by the likes of Jason Fleyming, Jaime Winstone, Sean Pertwee, Olivia Williams and what a delight it is to see Andy Serkis actually on the screen playing a real life human being (and no skin tight motion capture suit to be seen).
He also surrounded himself with talent behind the camera as well. Co-writing a sharp script with Danny King that jettisons that mockney-geezer language but provides real warmth and honesty to the family dynamic and some LOL friendly moments, such as Bill's cringeworthy attempt at a birthday present for Dean. The cinematography is also great, finding moments of tremendous beauty within the grim surroundings of the council estates of Stratford, contrasting the plush new Olympic villages in the background. For example there is a wonderful final shot of Bill and a tracking shot following a paper plane that is as beautiful and moving as the dancing plastic bag in American Beauty.
2011 was a great year for British directorial debuts, with the likes of Richard Ayoade, Joe Cornish and Paddy Considine all producing terrific films, and it looks like 2012 is off to a similar start.