If you are the kind of person who does not like it when a film challenges you or, if you think any attempt to dramatize the inner psychological motives of a character is either pretentious or useless, then don’t see Mister Foe (known outside the USA as Hallam Foe). But, if you are patient and tolerant when a filmmaker, who along with his actors and crew decide they want to try something different, even if it risks failure, then Mister Foe is worthy of your time.
Most people out for a Saturday night movie with friends or on a date would probably not choose to see a film like Mister Foe, but I have a hunch that for guys, this film could help you get laid. There, that is the best thing a critic can say to get guys to see a film, and I don’t think I am wrong in that assessment, although a description of the film will not really be of much help.
Mister Foe stars Jamie Bell (Billy Elliot) as the title character named Hallam. He is about to turn eighteen and is going through a rough time because his mother died two years prior and his loving, but somewhat ineffectual father (played by the always good Ciaran Hinds) has married his former secretary Verity (played by Claire Forlani) and Hallam is not happy about her being his step-mother. Although Verity tries to be nice, Hallam is having none of it. But Hallam has also developed into a teenage Peeping Tom, or has he describes it later “an unedifying habit”. This hobby began innocently enough, but now Hallam is rather compulsive about it and when Verity discovers what Hallam has been doing, especially the copious (and accurate) notes he keeps in his secret diaries, it provides her with enough to toss Hallam out of the country estate he lives at.
Moving to Glasgow, Hallam spies a girl named Kate (Sophia Myles) walking down the street who is a dead ringer for his dead mother. Impulsively following her to her job as a Human Resources manager at a big hotel, Hallam manages to talk himself into a job as a bus boy in the hotel kitchen, but Hallam is only there so he can watch Kate, at first from a distance and then from up very close once he finds out where she lives, but all the while from the safe distance of a Peeping Tom’s perch. Hallam soon discovers that Kate is having an affair with another hotel manager on staff, a married man named Alasdair played by Jamie Sives. It is jealousy at first sight and soon becomes a sort of one-upmanship like game between the two guys about who can become more important to Kate.
Of course, the psychological motives for Hallam are Oedipal and sexual and his knee- jerk male attempt at dominating a woman and marking out his territory alludes to other flaws in his character, but you can’t help but get involved in the story although it may be hard to explain to your friends why they should watch a film about dysfunctional Scottish people. I can only say it is because of the charm of the actors. All of them, even Jamie Sives in the thankless role of the married cad sexually manipulating a female employee come across as believable and ultimately moving.
The filmic style is simple, even though the film is shot beautifully in wide screen, the city of Glasgow itself seems to defy the wide angle lens and maintain its character as a big city with an uneven skyline, steep hidden stairways and alley ways, as if to say, you can look all you want, but Glasgow knows how to keep a secret.
Try all you might, you will find yourself feeling very sorry for Hallam, in a similar way to how you felt sorry for Norman Bates in Psycho. He may be weird and do strange things, but he was deeply hurt by his mother’s death and until he finds a way to deal with that pain, he will just act out in inappropriate ways. Fortunately, Kate turns out to like “creepy guys” as she drunkenly tells Hallam, not realizing exactly how creepy he can be. But Hallam does not possess the kind of disturbing and dangerous creepiness that plagued Norman Bates and ultimately Kate comes to realize that Hallam is someone in deep psychological pain and that there is absolutely nothing she can do to help him until he takes the first step.
My big hope is that this film will finally propel Jamie Bell out of the thankless job of being the poor man’s Christian Bale. Although their careers have similar trajectories and they are both from the UK, Jamie Bell’s talent deserves to be recognized. Over the last few years in films as diverse as Flags Of Our Fathers, King Kong, Undertow, Nicholas Nickelby and the greatly underrated film The Chumscrubber, Jamie Bell has worked hard to not just be considered a piece of slender British beefcake. Although Jamie Bell wears a mopey, slumped shoulder-emo look much of the time, there are occasions when he pulls off a smooth little dance move and then breaks into a smile that could brighten up the perpetually grey skies of Glasgow.
So if the emo look is primarily used by angsty-teens attempting a world weary look that does not befit their age or experience, then we can forgive Jamie Bell because he was born in 1986 and is only just out of his teens himself. Mark my words; if Bell can continue to do challenging, original films with competent filmmakers like David Gordon Green and David Mackenzie,he will become the actor of the next generation.