Such mundane realism defines ‘Bullet Boy’, the feature debut of TV documentary-maker Saul Dibb, who has rejected the usual flashy, clichéd and unhelpful trappings of teens-and-guns tales to tell a tragic story of how a family is destroyed when guns enter their otherwise unexceptional lives. Absent from Dibb’s narrative are drugs, crime (bar the firearms themselves) and gangs. Instead, we spend a few days on the estate with Ricky and Wisdom – two lads who employ guns to protect themselves when a minor row escalates into a bloody, inescapable beef. ‘If he’s going to kill me, why shouldn’t I kill him? If he’s going to do me, why shouldn’t I do him?’ So runs the wisdom of Wisdom, displaying the sad heart of this impressive film.
Thankfully, Dibb and screenwriter Catherine Johnson pay more than lip-service to Ricky’s family, so allowing for a credible and illuminating portrait of the boy’s life beyond the bravado of the streets. We witness the effect of his behaviour on his mother Beverley (Claire Perkins) and his easily influenced brother. ‘Everything’s flopped,’ moans Ricky when his desire to go straight fails – and in the most bloody fashion. Ultimately, we’re left with an overwhelming feeling of just how fine the line is between success and failure, life and death in the world that Ricky inhabits. For this, Dibb is to be congratulated. He has produced a work of superior, committed and responsible storytelling.