Bullet Boy

Director    Saul Dibb
Starring    Ashley Walters, Luke Fraser, Leon Black
3 stars

12th April 2005

Gosh, that So Solid Crew turned out to be a diverse bunch, didn't they? Anyone who caught the Tsunami benefit football match with the Celebs versus the Liverpool Legends will have seen young Harvey racing down the wing and giving Rafa Benitez a thing or two to think about. Lisa Maffia and Romeo both recently showed their bodies were as physically fit as their rhymes were fly on Channel 4's The Games. Step forward MC Asher D aka Ashley Walters, the first of the So Solid Crew to try their luck at acting, in Saul Dibb's Bullet Boy. Blimey, with a collection of talent like that, it's a miracle their records aren't still selling by the bucketload! Oh yeah. They sucked. That's why.

Still, monotonous garage beats to one side, please. Bullet Boy is a BBC-funded UK picture set in East London, which sees Walters take on a role that must sit uncomfortably close to home. He plays Ricky Gordon, a young man fresh out of prison and desperate to go straight, but whose lifestyle proves to be more difficult to escape than he had envisioned. The parallels with real life are on screen for all to see - Walters was jailed for gun possession in 2002, his character is immediately drawn back into a world of gun crime and gang culture - and matched with an authentic script and an unflattering portrayal of the nation's capital, Bullet Boy has no problems in the realism department. The language is often impenetrable - if you don't know your blads from your bredrins you'll be lost - but is always on the money. Having lived here for six months, I can confirm that East London is indeed a hole, but it's captured on film wonderfully, with a striking contrast between the dead grey concrete of the inner city and the burnt out green marshes of Hackney

Bullet Boy is a fairly straightforward picture and doesn't aim particularly high, rather seeming happy enough to tell culturally relevant story properly without preaching or pointing fingers. The characters, though they may be played with the appropriate level of pathos, are too broadly drawn to engage in any lasting emotional connection - there's the gangster turned good, the irresponsible best friend, the impressionable younger brother, the doting mother, the innocent girlfriend - no one character can lay claim to being anything approaching interesting. Walters, for all his past crimes (that includes his... ahem, criminal records), does an passable job in fleshing out Ricky, although his character's apparent immunity to the death and destruction unfolding around him might be construed as a lack of acting ability rather than world-weariness. Besides, his younger brother Curtis steals every scene they share, particularly the merciless mocking about a job in McDonalds being Ricky's only viable prospect for the future.

At just 89 minutes, Bullet Boy often struggles to find a foothold so as to convey its message - guns are bad but they're often an unavoidable way of life for some people - and characters quite often lack the depth required to make us believe this is true. Ricky's claim that he owes a life debt to his gun-happy friend Wisdom doesn't explain or excuse their friendship, and the parallel between them with Curtis and his best friend is too glaringly obvious to be considered a clever social comment.

Despite being called Bullet Boy and revolving around gun crime and gang culture, vitally there's very little actual gunplay involved. Every time a firearm is discharged, the impact is undeniable and shocking, sending out waves of trouble and only serving to place those involved in even more grave danger - one accusation that certainly can't be levelled at Bullet Boy is that it glamorises gun culture. Every bullet fired matters, every body that piles up has a story and every time a gun is pointed at someone, the threat is tangible. If you've been brought up on a movie diet of shooting first and asking questions later or firing off acute one-liners before popping a cap in some homeboy's ass, then Bullet Boy may well be as shocking to you as a gun jammed in your temple. Should you happen to live in London or similarly affected areas, then you'll enjoy a short, sharp, realistically told story that's refreshingly free of bullshit.

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