Bottom Line: Most entertaining comic drama with a great turn by Jamie Bell.
BERLIN — Not a great title, “Hallam Foe,” but it’s a juicy character for the talented and increasingly ubiquitous Jamie Bell to run with. It’s a showy part, but the movie ably supports it with splendid use of Edinburgh, Scotland’s cityscapes, a basket full of startling surprises in the screenplay and characters without a fleck of sentimentality. With muscular marketing, the highly entertaining movie, written (with Ed Whitmore) and directed by David Mackenzie, could move beyond the art house niche in Europe and North America.
Rock bottom, what is going on beneath the crowded and quite funny surface of this film, is a lad going through hell following the sudden death of his mother. Hallam (Bell) has one question about her drowning in the lake next to the family’s country home: Was it an accident? If not, he has a suspect: Verity (Claire Forlani), his dad’s seductive secretary, who married Julius Foe (Ciaran Hinds) much too quickly following his mother’s death.
His grief and anger express themselves in odd ways. Retreating to an elaborate childhood tree house, Hallam takes to spying on his dad and new wife through binoculars. Then one day, a fed-up Verity climbs into his tree house and seduces him! That’s some stepmother.
Hallam understandably flees, winding up penniless on the streets of Edinburgh. He quickly finds a place to roost, where he continues his spying proclivities. One woman who catches his attention bears a shocking resemblance to his late mother. He follows Kate (a winsome Sophia Myles) to a deluxe hotel where she is the personnel director. After a brief though strange encounter, she hires him as a kitchen worker.
He continues to follow and watch Kate only to make the awful discovery that she is having an affair with the hotel manager, Alasdair (Jamie Sives), a married man. Alasdair becomes aware of Hallam’s activities, fires him, but then is forced to rehire him when Hallam pulls off an audacious, cheeky stunt.
One night, Hallam goes drinking with his mother’s look-alike and winds up in her bed. Strange things happen in this movie. Indeed, there are echoes of Alfred Hitchcock, especially the voyeurism of “Rear Window,” the sexual obsession with a look-alike in “Vertigo” and even the mysterious drowning death in “Rebecca.”
But the movie never becomes a thriller as Mackenzie is more interested in his characters and the emotions that run when a son loses his mother early. You don’t have to buy this character completely to enjoy the movie.
Hallam Foe is a rather fictional conceit, no matter how you look at him. As he scampers along the rooftops and darts through open windows and passageways, he is the Phantom of the Opera with an obsession with a beautiful young woman and Spider-Man with his boyish obsession with solving crime.
This is the fun of the film. It’s serious, but then again it’s not. The story is rooted in the grim emotion of paralyzing grief, yet the story is wildly entertaining and in its sex scenes even a bit kinky. Kate’s signature line is: “I like creepy men.” So does the filmmaker.
Cinematographer Giles Nuttgens turns staid Edinburgh into a glittery, stately presence, especially in night shots, while Tom Sayer’s production design creates a world of undergrounds and rooftops. Colin Monie’s editing keeps things at a nimble pace, which is aided by an astute use of pop songs for the musical score.