It should be required that every few years we get a Catcher in the Rye movie. Not a straight adaptation — the impossibility of that has long been acknowledged by pretty much everybody — but an heir, at least, a worthy addition to the coming-of-age subgenre of off-kilter teenage boys let loose in big cities. Six years ago, we got Igby Goes Down, with Kieran Culkin as a rich kid slumming it in New York; now we get Mister Foe, with Jamie Bell as Hallam Foe, a disturbed teen wandering around Edinburgh.
But while Holden Caulfield had sister issues, the new stories have been getting more and more Oedipal. Mister Foe — called Hallam Foe in the U.K., where it was released a full year ago, after the novel it’s based on — begins with Hallam’s mother already dead. She apparently committed suicide by drowning in a lake after taking too many sleeping pills, but Hallam is convinced that his rich father’s (Ciaran Hinds) new girlfriend Verity (Claire Forlani) murdered her.
Events transpire that cause Hallam to finally leave home and head aimlessly to Edinburgh, where almost immediately, he chances upon seeing a woman named Kate Breck (Sophia Myles) who looks nearly identical to his mother.
Hallam’s a weird kid — he has a major voyeurism habit that extends to climbing on rooftops and sneaking peeks in windows, and every once in a while he likes to dress up in his mother’s old clothes — but he’s also extremely resourceful. Soon, he’s employed as a dishwasher, and working his way up, at the hotel in which Kate has a human resources job.
The film by now has drawn you in, and progresses from there in a manner which is, in a strange way, quite delightful. For a while, Hallam operates on two separate levels: maintaining a working relationship with Kate while spending nights peering into her apartment window. The friendly, businesslike woman who reminds him of his mother in the daytime turns out to have a messed-up personal life of her own: she’s horrible with men, and is currently in a relationship with a scumbag married man who uses her for sex.
Bell and Myles are both terrific, and I don’t say that lightly — these are two absolutely star-making performances. For Hallam, like Igby and Holden before him, Bell has to find a balance between damaged, resourceful, and smartass — and make him likable enough to carry a movie on. He succeeds. Myles, for her part, just brightens every single scene she’s in. Aside from her obvious, accessible beauty, she knows how to turn Kate in to a human being that the audience can recognize even as Hallam is, at first, idealizing her. In between the proper businesswoman and the mistress, there’s a real
human being in there, who’s maybe just as damaged as Hallam. Once she lets her hair down with him it’s one of the most enjoyable — and the most legitimately different
— relationships I’ve seen in a long time.
That’s the key to this movie. Just let the story and the characters work on you, because it’ll take you to places you haven’t been in a while. The soundtrack is filled with the kind of indie music that is apparently required of movies aiming for cult status, and despite an R-rating, it’s a great movie for teenagers. I’m not sure how well it did in the U.K., but it’s being dumped into a couple of cities here in the U.S. and is simultaneously available on HDNet. If those options don’t work for you, remember to check for the DVD in a couple months. I’m definitely picking it up, and I’d hate to have no one to talk about it with.
Movie Grade: A
A twisted Freudian adventure, the film centers on Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell), a teenage voyeur who fancies his step-mother (Claire Forlani) until he becomes convinced that she murdered his mother. He leaves home when she seduces him and begins a feral life in the rooftops of Edinburgh until he spots and becomes obsessed with a girl (Sophia Myles) who looks just like his mother.