Josh Robinson reviews “Bullet Boy”
“Bullet Boy” traces the path of Ricky Gordon (rapper Ashley Walters of So Solid Crew) from the day of his release from a young offenders’ institution back into daily life in his Hackney council estate.
The film follows his attempt to escape the pointless spiral of violence and retaliation, and the gradual but perhaps avoidable involvement in this cycle of his 12-year-old brother, Curtis (Luke Fraser).
The film’s violence is shocking because it is so closely connected to the most inane details of everyday life.
There is no gang-culture, no drug-dealing, no organised crime; the initial provocation is a broken wing-mirror.
As the film is played out, the increasingly aggressive confrontation between two small groups of young black men is punctuated by scenes of Curtis playing video games and shots of the (always unused) local football fields.
The film is often quite brightly lit, but bathed in light in such a way that it is pale rather than intensely coloured. The end-result is a screen that is somewhat bleak, but at the same time strangely intimate.
The hand-held camera remains almost insistently close to the actors, while the shot-length feels relatively short: the position from which we observe moves along with that of the characters, refusing the possibility of a static viewpoint.
This is not a moralising film, but one that has a great deal to say about morality. The culture of reciprocal obligation is presented as one of the most harmful aspects of Ricky’s life, and yet we are shown the inevitable creation of such an obligation through Curtis’s deepening involvement in a riskily competitive friendship.
Attempts at restitutive justice break down as people demand retaliation over reconciliation; while the church, apparently an enabling factor in the regeneration of the bad-boy-turned-evangelical-pastor (Curtis Walker), is little more than a distraction, failing to provide even consolation.
The film’s convincing setting and characters leave unanswered the questions of why particular choices are made.
Ricky offends his apparently strong but deeply hurt mother (Clare Perkins) by what he perceives to be the innocuous decision to spend his first night out of prison clubbing with his girlfriend.
His obligation to his best friend, the ironically named Wisdom (Leon Black), is one of compelled (if not unquestioning) acquiescence. Ricky consents to his friend’s will, regardless of the potential consequences. And so a night out develops into a trip to seek revenge, and the conflict escalates.
As a petty feud grows into threats, violence, property-damage and eventually murder, Ricky’s attempts to extricate himself become increasingly difficult: there is always one more thing to be done before he is able to move on.
In a touching respite from the intense, testosterone-fuelled anger of the rest of the film, Ricky, his girlfriend Shea (Sharea-mounira Samuels) and Curtis visit an ice-rink in the film’s one scene of genuine happiness. But even this relationship is tinged with slight misogyny: Ricky is only half-heartedly apologetic for disappointingly brief sex.
Curtis’s rejection of violence at the film’s end is perhaps somewhat glib, providing an almost disappointingly upbeat end to what is for the most part a deeply troubling film.
And yet there must remain hope that the blind acceptance of recklessly misplaced loyalties might be questioned, that the cycle of violence might be avoided.
The question that remains is that of whether this cycle must come to a head before it can be rejected, of how far it must advance before a way out can be found.