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Really Quite Impressive,
This review is from: Hallam Foe [DVD] (DVD)
This 2007 film by British film-maker David Mackenzie (based on a novel by Peter Jinks) has many things going for it - a relatively original (at times, Billy Liar-like) Oedipus-based narrative, an evocative Glasgow setting and an impressively diverse musical soundtrack - but whilst Hallam Foe builds on the promise Mackenzie showed in his earlier films, The Last Great Wilderness and Young Adam, once again the film does not (for me, at least) quite fulfil its early potential.
The core of Hallam Foe's narrative concerns the eponymous hero (Jamie Bell), who suspects his newly ensconced step-mother Verity (Claire Forlani) of complicity in his mother's recent death. Hallam's obsession with this theory has led to him 'dropping out' of ordinary life and instead eccentrically inhabiting a tree house (whose wall is dominated by a photo of his idolised mother), daubing himself with his mother's make-up and spying on passers-by in his fantasy world. Following Verity's discovery of his voyeuristic hobby Hallam is forced out of his father's (Ciaran Hinds) country home and seeks employment in Glasgow as a hotel kitchen porter and where, between bouts of roaming the rooftops, he becomes obsessed with his mother-lookalike, fellow hotel worker Kate (Sophia Myles).
Mackenzie's film, for me, scores particularly well during its first hour or so. He creates an effectively brooding sense of resentment between Hallam and his step mother, Forlani being particularly impressive as the cold, creepy intruder, and as the setting moves to urban Glasgow, cinematographer Giles Nuttgens' work lends an authentically evocative (and innovative) touch with its mix of sweeping night-time panoramas, dynamic hand-held shots and skilful close-ups. Acting-wise, Bell is pretty convincing (he was still only 21 at the time) as the whimsical, romantic obsessive and, for a 'smoggie' from Teesside, has mastered an eerily convincing Ewan McGregor-like (OK, Perthshire rather than Glasgow) Scots accent. Both Hinds and Forlani are impressive, whilst Myles as the target of Hallam's obsession delivers a nicely reserved turn. The film also includes impressive 'character' performances by the great Maurice RoŽves as Hallam's fellow kitchen worker, the gnarled veteran Raymond ('I killed a man once, smashed his head on a pier') and from (a rather under-used) Ewen Bremner as Hallam's hotel porter colleague.
The film moves along at a good pace, driven by Mackenzie's wittily humorous screenplay, although his (apparently trademark) tendency to include a high sex content does seem rather overdone at times (for example, Hallam's mad coupling with his step mother) and the sub-plot around Kate's lover, the married Alasdair (Jamie Sives), is also fairly predictable (albeit containing a number of hilarious set-pieces). This type of film also often suffers from the 'difficult ending syndrome' i.e. conclusive vs. non-conclusive, dramatic vs. non-dramatic, etc, and whilst Mackenzie is not entirely successful in this respect, I think he actually does a pretty good job.
In terms of likenesses to other films, for me, (as well as the sometime Billy Liar similarity) the mood (and dark humour) of Hallam Foe is at times rather like Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave and also Peter Mullan's Orphans. Mackenzie should also be praised for his choice of soundtrack, which as well as featuring Orange Juice's Blue Boy (worth a star in itself, in my book) - over David Shrigley's marvellous cartoon titles - also includes music by Franz Ferdinand, King Creosote and other more obscure British bands (Movietone, Four Tet, Hood, Woodbine, Ganger, Quickstep).