Hallam Foe

Hallam Foe


Reviewed by: Chris

Seventeen-year-old Hallam Foe is a Peeping Tom in the Scottish Highlands. He attempts to strangle his stepmother, then has sex with her and dresses up in his dead mother’s clothes.

Sound pretty good? Add some music by top band Franz Ferdinand and photography of Edinburgh’s historic buildings. People must be wetting their jeans to sign deals.

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Except that it sounds a lot better than it is. Hallam Foe uses a blunt and bloody Freudian sledgehammer to open a Pandora’s Box of false hope. Instead of slowly building such fantastic characters, the film launches straight into the screw-loose Hallam scaring young lovers in the woods. The childishly animated opening credits, followed by this boyishly cute outrageous behaviour, signal that he is going to be a Likeable Fellow.

There are some good points. The photography uses historic Edinburgh without the slightest hint of gratuitousness. Hallam leaps gaily from rooftop to rooftop, obsessively following Kate (Sophia Myles), a complete stranger whom he believes resembles his mother. You cannot fail to take in the breathtaking beauty of the architecture, just as a passing drunk makes a derogatory and very humorous remark about Edinburgh Castle. Unlike most directors that shoot a movie in Edinburgh, David Mackenzie has resisted the temptation of even a quick panning shot and the photography throughout is rather nice.

The supporting cast are also on top form. Ewen Bremner provides a hilarious high-speed soliloquy about his raunchy sexual experience. Sophia Myles carries off her (equally unbelievable) part with an aplomb that deserves a medal, and other characters convince. In addition, the music, especially that written for the film by Franz Ferdinand, is damn good. Finally, the film has a ‘cutesy’ appeal often evoked by all-things-Scottish.

So what’s wrong with it - aside from the fact that Hallam looks as though he should have been institutionalised? Well, for example, take his step-mother. She comes up to his tree-house and confronts him over lurid entries in his diary. He thinks she tried to kill his mom so he tries to strangle her. Now we know he is a sheep’s liver short of the full haggis but, however nasty stepmum is, there is no suggestion that she isn’t the full shilling. So what does she do? Why, grab his crotch gently, give him a stiffy, then take his virginity on the wooden floor. Yep. If your teenage son attacks you, that’s how you’d handle him right enough.

Then there’s Kate (Sophia Miles). She discovers he’s been watching her through her skylight and can even tell her how much he thought she was or wasn’t enjoying the sex with yon married lover. She promptly starts dating the little perv. Something clicks inside me – voyeurism must be a big turn on to women: I’ve been ticking the wrong hobby boxes on my speed-dating form.

Now this little runt who can barely hold down a job or a civil conversation, manages to get into the married lover’s apartment, smooth talk the wife till hubby gets back, and successfully blackmail him. The psychology being, if you need instant intelligence and charisma to fulfil the oedipal complex of a movie script, it will suddenly appear.

Hallam Foe is not an awful film: it just isn’t very good. Jamie Bell showed us he could act in Billy Elliot. But to convince me of the reality of the character in this film he would probably have to have 20 years of method acting and several Oscars already. The task would be daunting to a Robert De Niro at that age (although you could imagine him doing a believable cute loony version later on).

Jamie Bell looks as though he’s enjoying being Grown Up, but otherwise he seems to think he is so good that just saying the lines will make him great.

The film opened the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Top talent graced the Red Carpet guest list and even Scotland’s leading politicians came. As the opening night film, it was mentioned in film news worldwide. EIFF has a lamentable tradition of showcasing mediocre parochial talent for the first night gala. Commercially it makes sense, but is lacking in artistic integrity – especially in a programme packed with films that could eat Hallam before the first round of press junket freebies.

Recent years have hosted Ratcatcher, The Flying Scotsman and David Mackenzie’s previous work, Young Adam. These films all had some merit, but were hardly world class. They should be in a Scottish section of the programme, not waved at the world as the best an upcoming Festival can trumpet. All have entered for the Audience Award and all have lost lamentably. (When I checked the ratings at time of writing, Hallam Foe was trailing behind a little known film in Gaelic.)

Scotland does not have a big enough film industry to have a Braveheart or a Trainspotting very often. Artistic integrity (as when Billy Elliot was selected) should come before blind patriotism. Scotland has a Festival to be proud of: it doesn’t need to claim a greatness that isn’t there.

Hallam Foe was promoted in the first year of a new directorship under Hannah McGill. McGill has already broken several taboos – including expanding the range of Awards and moving the festival to a better date for the international film circuit. Her programming pulled in fantastic films and themes in one of the best EIFFs for ages. Let us hope that this remarkable woman will have also the courage to break the curse of opening night cronyism.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2007
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A teenage misfit struggles to come to terms with his mum's death.
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Read more Hallam Foe reviews:

Dylan Matthew ****

Director: David Mackenzie

Writer: Peter Jinks, David Mackenzie, Ed Whitmore

Starring: Jamie Bell, Sophia Myles, Ciarán Hinds, Jamie Sives, Maurice Roëves, Ewen Bremner, Claire Forlani, Ruthie Milne, John Paul Lawler, Lucy Holt

Year: 2007

Runtime: 95 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: UK, IMDb UK section


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