Director David Mackenzie’s previous films Asylum and Young Adam have gained him a reputation for intelligent art house films with Hollywood casts. His newest offering is Hallam Foe, currently opening the Edinburgh Film Festival and winner of two awards at the Berlin Film Festival (Independent Jury Prize and Best Music) earlier this year.
The film begins two years after Hallam’s mother was found drowned in an apparent suicide. Hallam (played by Jamie Bell) has reacted by distancing himself from everyone around him, taking instead to sneaking and spying on people, including his father (Ciaran Hindes) and his new step-mother (Claire Forlani), who he believes murdered his mother. Gradually marginalised and eventually pushed out, Hallam heads to Edinburgh where he spots a woman (Sophia Myles) who looks remarkably like his mother. He begins to stalk her.
Jamie Bell takes you into the mind of the very troubled Hallam and manages to help you accept the dangerous and sometimes crazy things he does by always showing us his vulnerability. It helps that even in his Billy Elliot days Bell never played cute, but he proves here that he is shaping up to be a very good film actor. The film’s excellent supporting cast back him up well, particularly a grumpy Maurice Roeves and a fantastically repugnant Jamie Sives.
But the real revelations here are the two female leads: Forlani as the sometimes-evil stepmother oozing a very dark, malevolent charm; and Myles, pitching the serially-misguided Kate perfectly, part saviour and part disaster-zone. As an audience, we want her to rescue Hallam and yet recognise that she is incapable of even rescuing herself.
The film is based on a novel by Peter Jinks which Mackenzie states impressed him as a ‘fucked-up Catcher in the Rye‘. Split between the Scottish Highlands and Edinburgh it is to the credit of Mackenzie and editor Colin Monie (who worked on Mackenzie’s previous two films) that they manage to create an atmosphere that bridges the two locations. The whole film has a queasy sense of unease which aptly reflects Hallam’s fractured world.
For the soundtrack Mackenzie notes that he always wanted to ‘DJ the score’ but was aware he could not because of the very small budget and short filming period (just eight weeks). Instead he made an alliance with Laurence Bell and Domino Records to create a soundtrack exclusively from tracks from their catalogue, including a new track by Franz Ferdinand. It does not always work and at times chops and changes between songs too much but its schizophrenic mood fits well with the complex emotional shifts of Hallam himself.
There are moments of sheer filmic joy (Hallam in Kate’s flat waving at himself spying in at the window, for instance), though perhaps not as many as there might have been. However, the cast are uniformly superb and the twists and turns of the plot mean you’re never entirely sure where it’s going, a bit of a rarity in this Hollywood bubblegum season.