Jamie Bell might still be best remembered for his debut in the title role of Billy Elliot (now a ridiculous looking musical on Broadway). Hard as it was for me to believe, eight years have passed since that film and Bell is now twenty-two years old. He is a wonder playing another title role in David Mackenzie’s latest, Mister Foe (Hallam Foe in the UK).
Hallam is an awkward Scottish teen about to fall into his awkward Scottish adulthood. His mother drowned under mysterious circumstances a few years earlier and Hallam retreated inward. He has become extremely voyeuristic heading to higher and higher ground over the course of the film seemingly in an attempt to gain clarity.
Upon leaving his home for the city under extreme conditions, Hallam encounters a young woman to pin his hopes upon. Sophia Myles plays Kate Breck, the young woman of interest who bears a striking resemblance to Hallam’s mother. Myles shines as Kate, a young woman with an easy appeal, yet a deep enough character study to be simultaneously flawed and magnetic.
Jamie Bell walks a tightrope as Hallam and makes it look easy. Reading the synopsis and I would imagine the script, Hallam sounds perverse, likely mentally ill (which he may be), and socially inept. Bell makes believable his contrary cleverness and his unexpected ability to have a normal, even charming conversation. His voyeurism doesn’t seem sexual in nature, rather his way to observe the human world and sometimes to get to know and care about people while avoiding a two-way vulnerability. The film is shot from his characters’ perspective, putting Bell in every scene without ever wearing out his welcome. If he continues to choose wisely, I expect a successful adult transition and a long career to come.
The film gets into oedipal themes as well as veering off into distinctly Shakespearean territory without losing a basis in its modern setting. It has more than enough emotional resonance for these themes to avail themselves to the audience on subsequent viewings. I also want to mention how beautiful the film is, gorgeously captured in overcast muted fall tones by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens. Director David Mackenzie successfully presents an untraditional lead character and a non-formulaic story arc without alienating the audience or feeling overlong. He is really switching gears for his next project, an Ashton Kutcher sex comedy… Huh?