Sadly, it seems that we cannot open a newspaper these days without reading a tragic story about Britain?s rising gun culture. Gang wars, drug deals and petty crimes are frequently resulting in bloodshed and it?s impossible to know how to stop the cycle of violence which teenagers often find themselves trapped in. All this unfortunately makes [i]Bullet Boy[/i] seem extremely relevant. Documentary filmmaker Saul Dibb?s exceptional debut feature tells a simple tale - an ex-con trying to go straight, who is held back by his loyalty to an errant friend - but presents it in an authentic, intelligent and moving fashion which gives us a glimpse at the harsh realities of a life with few choices.
Asher D, of London rap group [i]So Solid Crew[/i], takes the lead role here under his real name Ashley Walters. Walters brings considerable baggage to the role; he has served time for possession of a firearm and his group?s music has often been accused of glamorising gun violence. Here, he plays Ricky, an 18 year-old who has just completed a six-month stretch for an unspecified crime. He is met upon his release by his inappropriately named friend Wisdom (Leon Black) and 10 year-old brother Curtis (Luke Fraser). Wisdom tells Ricky that he has an opportunity to make some cash, and gives him a gun, but Ricky warns his friend that he doesn?t want to risk making money that way. He?s determined to make the most of his life now and never go back inside.
On the way home Wisdom clips the wing mirror of a local crew leader named Godfrey (Clark Lawson) and a confrontation erupts. Ricky and Wisdom leave the scene but this incident is not over. Within 48 hours the seemingly trivial matter of a broken ring mirror will have yielded a number of murders, families torn apart and an end of innocence for Ricky?s impressionable younger brother.
This low-budget film may follow a predictable narrative path, but the quality of performance, craftsmanship, and level of emotion present more than makes up for it. Saul Dibb?s background in documentaries is evident as he probes this underworld with a fascinated outsider?s eye and his objective, naturalistic direction gives this material an immediacy and edge which is bracing. Dibb and co-writer Catherine Johnson have taken on a tricky subject matter with [i]Bullet Boy[/i] and, refreshingly, they?ve managed to tackle it without the sensationalism and clichés which may have dogged the project in less capable hands.
[i]Bullet Boy[/i] doesn?t attempt to point fingers of blame at rap music, drugs, gang culture, or anything that the media likes to paint as the reason for gun crime. Instead, Dibb and Johnson root the action in the mundane realities of life and attempt to understand how the cycle of violence develops. The factor they depict most successfully is the code of masculinity that these youths are under so much pressure to conform to. The violence, which could have been so easily avoided, is instigated because Wisdom hears about Godfrey calling him ?a pussy?. To his anxious mother, Ricky says ?How many guys go to jail and have their mothers come to pick them up??. Even Curtis feels the pressure; when his friend accuses him of being a ?mummy?s boy? because he won?t take a puff of weed, he retorts with ?I?d rather be a mummy?s boy than a crack head?. Noble sentiments, but you wonder how long he can last.
The performances throughout [i]Bullet Boy[/i] deserve high praise, Walters is strong in the lead role and is ably supported by Claire Perkins as his devoted mother, Sharea-Mounira Samuels as his girlfriend and Leon Black as the troublesome Wisdom. But it?s Luke Fraser who stands out as young Curtis, giving an incredibly subtle and natural performance. Marcel Zyskind?s cinematography gives the film a professional, cinematic look, while the soundtrack provided by Neil Davidge and Robert Del Naja is understated and well-used.
With a ridiculously small budget, Dibb has crafted something really special with [i]Bullet Boy[/i]. His film is never heavy-handed, it never preaches, and it surely marks the start of an interesting career for the filmmaker. Of course, having no experience of this section of society myself, I can?t vouch for its authenticity; all I can say is that it [i]felt[/i] authentic. I felt the emotions, I understood the characters, I was drawn into this world and, at the end of the film, I believed that there was a glimmer of hope for youngsters such as Curtis to break out of the cycle. Or maybe I just really wanted to believe it.