The idea that addiction (drugs, alcoholism) is a disease is still scoffed at in some quarters, but what traction the once-radical notion has is largely due to the work of William G. Wilson (AKA Bill W.), cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous and the driving force behind the organization. Since its publication in 1939, the book Alcoholics Anonymous has sold more than 30 million copies and has been translated into 40-plus languages, with its 12-step principles now used as the model for more than 60 recovery programs. The documentary Bill W., codirected by Kevin Hanlon and Dan Carracino, is a loving, exhaustive, warts-and-all look at the man who spent years battling his own alcoholism before a spiritual experience in the hospital set him on the course to help others. Employing dramatic re-enactments with narration supplied by audio interviews of the real-life Bill, and supplementing that with lots of old newsreels of Bill and his wife Lois as well as interviews with historians and assorted members of AA (some of whom have been sober for more than 50 years), the film is a bit disjointed. Its elements never quite gel. They do, however, deliver an engrossing portrait of a remarkable man who remained humble even as he became something of a revolutionary.
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