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Peeping Oedipus Comes of Age

Mister Foe (2007)

Magnolia Pictures

Ever since Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window," Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom," Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow-Up" – and the list goes on, the portrayal of voyeurism in film has become somewhat well-worn territory. Although there are always creative directors coming up with new and inventive ways of exploring these ideas, David Mackenzie is not one of them. His newest film, "Mister Foe," is a jumble of a movie, switching gears left and right between themes of voyeurism, coming-of-age, adolescent fantasy, love and loss - underscored by an equally confused, yet hip, soundtrack.

The film follows Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell), a 17-year-old boy who spends most of his time in a tree house decorated with a gigantic wall-to-wall photograph of his beautiful late mother (a not-so-subtle hint at some Oedipal themes to come). He lives with his father and wicked stepmother, Verity (Claire Forlani), who spends most of her time pursing her lips and flashing dark looks. Convinced his mother's death was due to foul play, Hallam confronts Verity, and they end up having intercourse in his tree house. The film leaves it up to question whether the event is real or part of Hallam's overactive imagination - however, the scene is gratuitous enough that it doesn't really matter.

Hallam then escapes to Edinburgh and finds work as a dishwasher at a hotel. His boss, Kate (Sophia Myles), is a young woman with a striking resemblance to his late mother. And he begins to pursue her - first from afar, then by climbing up to her rooftop and watching her nightly through her windows. While it's clear that the audience is supposed to feel concern for Hallam and his emotional well-being, his voyeurism is so invasive that it leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Hallam ends up forging a relationship with Kate, and he rises in the ranks at the hotel, becoming a front-of-house porter. Eventually his peeping ways are discovered and he is chastised, only to be forgiven soon after. Kate transitions seamlessly from being Hallam's fantasy object to being his therapist, helping him deal with the loss of his mother and his misplaced desires. Their happy union is interrupted by the return of Hallam's father and evil stepmother. Upon seeing Kate, she sneers to Hallam, "Does it feel like you're fucking Mummy?" Thrust back into his insecure, anti-social, and rabid ways, Hallam heads back home, ostensibly to kill Verity - a scene set to an upbeat rock-'n'-roll jam. Are we having fun yet? The music seems to think we should be. 

The confused attitude towards sex and women, coupled with adolescent angst and family dysfunction, is not what's unappealing. "The Squid and the Whale" is a film that dealt with these issues very well. However, "Mister Foe" attempts to be quirky like "The Squid and the Whale" for the mere sake of being quirky - repulsive at times, or pornographic for the sake of being cutting-edge. The film veers from nuanced slice-of-life to wild, steamy melodrama in the blink of an eye. Complexity or ambiguity are good, but those things need to be deliberate. In this case, it doesn't feel like anyone is steering the ship - in fact, the whole thing feels like a juvenile male fantasy put through film school. 

If this sounds overly harsh, it's because of the disappointing waste of resources. Underneath the histrionics, there really is an excellent story of youth and confusion and family. Edinburgh makes for an interesting setting and there are some truly beautiful shots of the cityscape. And lastly, Mr. Bell is a terrific actor. He appears in almost every scene of "Mister Foe" and performs wonderfully, making one wish he had been able to work with more focused material.


Opens on Sept. 5 in New York and on Aug. 31, 2007 in Britain. 

Directed by David Mackenzie; written by Mr. Mackenzie and Ed Whitmore, based on a novel by Peter Jinks; director of photography, Giles Nuttgens; edited by Colin Monie; production design by Tom Sayer; produced by Gillian Berrie; released by Magnolia Pictures (United States) and Buena Vista International (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 18 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Jamie Bell (Hallam Foe), Sophia Myles (Kate Breck), Ciarán Hinds (Julius Foe) and Claire Forlani (Verity Foe).


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