“Bill W.,” an admirable, illuminating film about the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, is pretty much like the man himself: solid, sometimes flawed and seriously un-flashy.
By DAVID LEWIS
San Francisco Chronicle
The proceedings do not always make for scintillating drama — this is a workman-like, educational effort — but “Bill W.” more than succeeds in shedding light on an important figure who has affected the lives of millions, yet whom many people know little about.
The documentary soars highest when we hear powerful recordings from the man himself, who died in 1971. William G. Wilson tells the story of his first drink, how alcohol ruined him, and the inspiration behind forming Alcoholics Anonymous and its famous 12 steps.
More hit and miss are the re-enactments, whether they depict a drunken Bill W. or an enraptured audience while he tells the story of his life. These scenes are well-crafted, and one can understand why the filmmakers resorted to them: There’s only so much archival footage you can obtain of a man who thrived on secrecy and who died 40 years ago. But some of these re-creations are jarring and take us out of the moment.
At the end of the day, though, this was a story that needed to be told. And Bill W.’s lifelong struggles — and achievements — will have resonance for generations to come.
(At the Screenland Crown Center.)