Wild Bill, Dexter Fletcher, 96 mins (15)
The Hunger Games, Gary Ross, 146 mins (12A)

Dexter Fletcher does the miraculous and breathes real life into the mouldering corpse of the gangster Britflick – but a much-touted dystopian fantasy is dead on arrival

The success of Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels opened the floodgates to a torrent of inferior gangster-geezer movies. So, news that one of its stars, Dexter Fletcher, had directed and co-written his own East End crime caper, a decade after everyone else, probably didn't pique the interest of many Bafta voters.

The cameos from just about every actor who's ever done a Cockney accent on the big screen, from Jaime Winstone to Jason Flemyng, don't inspire confidence either, and the basic plot is no different from most of those Lock, Stock ... wannabes.

A shell-suited hardman, Charlie Creed-Miles, finishes an eight-year prison term to find that his ex-wife has abandoned their two sons to live alone in a filthy council flat. The 15-year-old, Will Poulter, is doing his best, but he can't stop his 11-year-old brother, Sammy Williams, sliding into delinquency. Creed-Miles has to move in with them to prevent the boys from being taken into care, but the drug dealers from his old manor, Leo Gregory and Andy Serkis, would rather he left town, preferably in a box.

With these credentials, Wild Bill should be just another of the tawdry bloke-sploitation movies that the British film industry keeps foisting on us ... which makes it all the more cheering to report that it's the most affecting, funny, and sure-footed comedy-drama that we're likely to see this year. Yes, it has boozers, brawls and a tart with a heart, but its tone is very much its own: gritty without being gloomy, soft-hearted without being sentimental. And it has a polished script, by Fletcher and Danny King, which packs cherishable sarcasm into every line. What's particularly refreshing is that the film doesn't glamorise its small-time crooks. In the view of Wild Bill, true heroism lies in cleaning the toilet, cooking a shepherd's pie and sticking at a job that pays £3 an hour.

The film's tough-but-tender feel is epitomised by its eponymous hero, who, despite his fearsome reputation, is a flustered, well-meaning soul who quails at the thought of another jail sentence. Creed-Miles is superbly nuanced and sympathetic in the lead role. Poulter, one of the child stars of Son of Rambow, proves to have the wiry intensity to be a grown-up star, too. But Wild Bill isn't a two-man show. Fletcher and King have given each of the many characters their own identity – along with a generous helping of excellent jokes.

The film's socio-political subtext also sets it apart from just about every other post-Guy-Ritchie film: Creed-Miles's high-rise flat may overlook east London's shiny new Olympic Park, but the lives of everyone he knows remain resolutely un-regenerated. Bafta voters – and everyone else – should jump to attention now.

The Hunger Games, like the zillion-selling novel from which it's adapted, has one of those grandiose concepts which you either go with or you don't – and I couldn't go with it. The idea is that in a dystopian future, America will be divided into 13 regions. One of these is a metropolis where the decadent hyper-rich swank around in Marie Antoinette costumes. The other 12 are where the proles toil in poverty. Every year, two teenagers from each of those 12 provinces are picked by lottery to fight to the death in the televised Hunger Games. One of the unlucky teens is Jennifer Lawrence, who plays much the same self-sufficient survivalist as she did in Winter's Bone. Whisked away to the capital, she's coached by a shell-shocked former winner, Woody Harrelson, and interviewed by a toothy, blue-haired game-show host, Stanley Tucci, before being deposited in a forest, where she has to murder her 23 young competitors. It's like a junior I'm a Celebrity – Get Me Out of Here!, but with more machetes.

I don't know whether this noxious premise seems plausible in Suzanne Collins's book, but the film leaves some fundamental questions unanswered, the most fundamental of which is: what's the point of the Games, anyway? It's suggested that they remind the workers not to rise up against their masters, but surely such a ritualised bloodbath would be more likely to foment a revolution than discourage it. (Remember Spartacus?) And as the seat of power is a monumental city capable of devoting vast resources and mind-blowing technology to the Games, I can't see that its oligarchs would have anything to fear from a cowed and starving underclass.

Maybe I'm taking Collins's cartoonish satire too seriously, but that's how The Hunger Games wants to be taken. With its wobbly, indie camerawork, its lack of humour and Lawrence's sullen perma-frown, it presents itself as something deeper and darker than the woolly fantasy it is. It's The Running Man for Justin Bieber fans.

Film choice

Film noir meets figures in a Turkish landscape in Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, a pensive masterpiece with touches of Dostoyevsky and Chekhov from director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. In Darkness is a compelling story of Holocaust survival that sees director Agnieszka Holland returning to her Polish roots.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering