Review of Bill W.

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A documentary about Bill Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous
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Movie Review: "Bill W." --

Rating: NR
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: May 18, 2012
Directed by: Kevin Hanlon, Dan Carracino
Genre: Documentary
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The name Bill W. might not mean much to some people, but those who attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings know that he was one of the founding forces behind the group. Directors Kevin Hanlon and Dan Carracino combine forces to show audiences more about his life in the documentary "Bill W.".

"Bill W." is unlike most documentaries because it uses techniques often found on crime shows. The filmmakers met with alcoholics who attended the meetings in the past, using dark shadows and other methods to keep their identities hidden. They then talk about the man to friends, family members, and others know knew him in the past. The voice of Bill W. is even heard several times during the movie.

Bill W. was an alcoholic who felt like his life was going downhill. He was a disgrace to his friends and family, and he cared little about anything except getting his next drink. After getting clean and sober, he helped found Alcoholics Anonymous, which now has millions of members in more than 100 countries. The book that members follow has millions of copies in circulation, making Bill W. an interesting figure for a documentary.

Despite being dead for several years, Hanlon and Carracino found more than enough information and archival evidence for their film. The moments where the filmmakers use Bill W. are the moments that make the movie. His voice usually appears in scenes where they show photographs of life. The most interesting moments come when he admits the mistakes he made in the past and how those mistakes made him the man he became.

Some documentaries highlight only the positive attributes of a person. These filmmakers never shied away from the man that Bill W. once was, which made the movie even stronger. Those close to Bill W. appear on camera, discussing the moments that he kept hidden and private. One person close to him discusses how he frequently demanded that people bring alcohol to him, even as he lay dying. There are also stories about the women he had affairs with during his marriage, including the affairs that occurred after he founded Alcoholics Anonymous. Viewers will even hear stories about his experimentation with drugs and the things he did while using those drugs. "Bill W." makes it clear that while some people view him as a hero, he was just a man.

Though the movie is extremely strong, it does falter a few times. When group members discuss their battles with alcohol, the directors show actors recreating those moments. The jump between the person in the shadows and the sudden reenactment is jarring at times and uncomfortable at other times. Those moments take the viewer out of the documentary and make the viewer feel like it is a television show.

The other fault occurs when the directors decide to use a live studio audience. The movie jumps to people sitting around as they listen to taped recordings of the real Bill W. These scenes have no purpose in the movie, and the scenes make the viewer wish the filmmakers simply showed more pictures with the recordings.

"Bill W." is a movie that appeals to those who used Alcoholics Anonymous successfully, as well as those who only have a passing familiarity with the group. So many people worship the group that AA now owns Bill's former house and keeps it open to the public. The movie shows that the man and even the group had a sordid history. Hanlon and Carracino use archival footage to show the early days of AA, including times when the group did not allow those of other races or religions to join.

"Bill W." is a movie that some might find hard to sit through because it shows the struggles that Bill went through in his life. Those who attended meetings during his life will not find the movie shocking because he often discussed his personal life and problems at meetings. Those who know little to nothing about the real Bill W. will find the movie exciting and interesting. "Bill W." presents the true story of a man who helped change millions of people's lives, even as he struggled in his own life. The combination of his speeches, archival photographs, and stories from real members make "Bill W." worth a viewing for anyone, not just those who attend AA meetings.