Review by Jack Foley
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Director David Mackenzie; Deleted Scenes With Optional Audio Commentary By Director David Mackenzie; Podcasts.
FROM the start, Hallam Foe is one of the darkest rites-of-passage tales you’re likely to see in a long time. And yet it’s somehow romantic as well!
Jamie Bell stars as the eponymous ‘hero’, a deeply disturbed teenager who – upon first meeting – lives in a treehouse surrounded by blown-up images of his dead mother, who occasionally sneaks out to spy on neighbours having sex while wearing a badger pelt for a hat and lipstick around his nipples.
Convinced his stepmother (Claire Forlani) had a part to play in his mother’s death, he determines to prove her guilt – only to wind up having sex with her and fleeing to Edinburgh instead.
Once there, however, his problems manifest. Before long, he develops a new obsession for beautiful hotel worker Kate (Sophia Myles) and convinces her to take him on, eventually developing a sexual relationship.
But his past is never far behind and when his stepmom and father finally catch up with him, Hallam must face up to some difficult truths while trying to preserve his fragile new existence.
Based on the novel by Peter Jinks, Hallam Foe would be a very easy movie to get wrong. Its themes are tricky at best, and its central character ought to be really unappealing given his voyeuristic tendencies and fractured mental state.
But thanks to some brilliant performances and some clever direction from David Mackenzie, the film never feels as twisted or as depraved as it should. Rather, it casts an unlikely surreal spell over audiences, luring them into a bizarre world that boasts plenty of romance and humour to offset some of the darker moments.
Mackenzie, for his part, makes brilliant use of his Edinburgh locations, setting much of the film on the rooftops of the city to offer his characters some form of escape. It’s a brilliant tactic that allows the film to exist on several different levels (literal as well as psychological), while offering a unique perspective.
An eclectic, often quirky soundtrack (courtesy of Domino Records) also heightens the sense of the surreal.
But all of this would be irrelevant were it not for the sterling work of the director’s excellent cast.
Bell is brilliant as Hallam, embodying the character both physically and mentally. It’s a richly layered performance that shows just why the young actor is rightfully considered one of Britain’s best, expertly combining paranoia and edginess with an awkard romantic vulnerability. You’ll somehow be rooting for him without necessarily knowing why.
Miles, too, turns Kate into an utterly appealing character despite the fact she’s clearly as damaged as Hallam, and Forlani adds a wonderful ambiguity to her ‘wicked stepmom’. There’s strong support from Ciaran Hinds, Ewan Bremner and Jamie Sives to name but a few.
The end result is an unmitigated triumph for everyone concerned – a brave, dark, emotionally complex coming-of-age tale that flies in the face of convention while somehow retaining a feelgood sense of hope.
It’s well worth taking a risk.
Running time: 95mins