Saturday, September 06, 2008

Mister Foe

I must admit I do not know much about Jamie Bell, a well received British actor who sparked interest when he appeared in 'Billy Elliot" in 2000. My only real exposure to him in a real leading role was in the Lars von Trier penned "Dear Wendy," a film I liked but did not have many comments regarding the young Bell. And now he appears in "Mister Foe," given a very depth-filled role in a very memorable little film. "Mister Foe" is a very gentle and well acted drama, which could have went a very different direction in terms of execution. Made in the United Kingdom, I have a feeling that had it been made in the United States, or in the hands of a more incompetent director, "Mister Foe" could have gone a more quirky and generic indie route. The eccentricities of its main characters are treated in a very human and natural way, instead of using them for cheap laughs or unnecessary comedy. And this is done, not only through the very realistic screenplay, but also the natural performances by the entire cast.

Bell plays Hallam Foe, who spends his days and nights spying on various members of his family and his neighborhood. Obsessed with his dead mother, whose photo appears very large on the wall of his treehouse, Hallam spies on his stepmother Verity, and his father Julius (Ciaran Hinds). His mother reportedly drowned after taking a large dosage of sleeping pills, but Hallam is convinced that Verity had some part in the wicked deed. He only makes appearances during meal times, where Verity has to go outside of the Foe estate and call for him on a large bullhorn. Both Julius and Verity agree that Hallam should grow up and leave home, and idea that Hallam greets with much negativity. That is until he is walking down the streets and spots a young woman that looks just like his mother. He follows her into a hotel, where he asks for and receives a job washing dishes. He befriends the look-a-like, named Kate, and soon does not return home. Instead he follows her, and makes a small room in a shack overlooking her window, where he watches he have an affair with a married man. But soon him and Kate's friendship takes a much darker, romantic turn, confronting Hallam with an Oedipal crisis and risking his natural routine.

Bell does a really great job here, channeling some of the more classic "angry young man" films of the 60's and the 70's, such as "Alfie" or "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning." We follow him throughout the film, from a very observatory standpoint. From the opening shots, done with a shaking camera and only a few feet away from his face. Our relationship with him is abruptly forced on us, but it ends up being quite a welcome one. And we watch him go about his business, slowly. We see him go about his spying or his regular routines as if plot and story doesn't matter. It probably takes about thirty minutes before Kate is even introduced. As Kate, Sophia Myles (who probably is best known for her turn in the other stalker main character film "Art School Confidential") is cute and charming, and her on-screen chemistry with Bell is very engaging. It is a role that could possibly become a bit creepy-after all, Kate and Hallam have a relationship that is based on a common look to his mother, and when they become intimate it manages to be sweet and not disturbing. 

Along with the Kate/Hallam relationship, there is a much more subtle and much briefer relationship subplot between Hallam and his father, which bookends the films but ends up being quite the core of the film, especially in the next to final scene, where the true revelations of the death of Hallam's mother come to light. It is a very dark scene, both in tone and visuals, but is a poignant finish to the bulk of the films conflicts. As I mentioned, the film manages to avoid being a comedy through the eccentricities of its characters-from example. Hallam's fetish for following people makes for some minor light comedy, especially in the beginning, but it never goes over board to poke fun at it. In addition, we see Kate as a very troubled young woman, and not as a over the top character that many indie film protagonists manage to fall in love with-such as "Garden State" or "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"-two fine films, but had "Mister Foe" gone into that territory it would have been a very dangerous thing. The Verity character, played by Claire Forlani who disappeared for a while after the late 90's, is also given more dimensions than just the goldigger stepmother cliche that we have seen many times before.

It is these unconventional moves that bring "Mister Foe" out of the standard independent film formula, and along with some very good performances by the entire cast it makes for quite a nice light drama. Hallam is a very likable character, and none of the films subplots ended up weighing the film down. Moving from the personal storyline, to the love story, to the family story with great ease and careful pacing, "Mister Foe" has enough going on to keep the viewer consistently involved, and Hallam Foe stays with the viewer long after the final black out. It's a good little movie that will easily be dregged down with the early Oscar contenders coming out in the next few weeks.

*** of ****


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