Bill W.

Bill Wilson didn’t seem like the hero type. The product of a broken home in a time when that was rare, he was a businessman of middling success and a drunkard of considerable excess.

But as the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Wilson has saved innumerable lives with a 12-step program that has since been emulated by scores of recovery groups. He might just be the least known of the 20th century’s most influential people.

Bill W., which chronicles the man, isn’t the most artful of documentaries. While the filmmakers use a treasure trove of archival footage, stills and audio recordings of Wilson, who died in 1971, the interspersing of
re-enactments, voice-over narration and modern-day interviews is
occasionally clunky.

Still, like AA itself, the film gets the job done, and the reluctant savior at its core makes for a compelling subject.

Also like AA, Bill W. doesn’t shy away from some unpleasant realities. Directors Kevin Hanlon and Dan Carraccino obviously admire Wilson, and understandably so, but they note that sobriety didn’t erase his deep flaws. He cheated on his wife, indulged in LSD and battled crippling depression throughout his life. In the end, the film’s limitations are eased by its fascinating topic.

Phil Bacharach

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