Hallam Foe is one of the best of the 1960s wave of British films which made
a separate genre out of the tragic yet madcap antics of mentally ill young
men. I can't remember exactly, but I think it came in between Billy Liar and
Morgan. Wait a second. That chick from Mallrats is in it, and she hadn't even
been born in 1965. What the heck?
Oh, sorry. This excellent 1965 film was actually made in 2007. My bad. I
missed a few years on my calendar. I was never any good at tearing those days
off when they pass.
OK, I really knew it wasn't a 1965 film, but frankly, I'm still kinda
depressed that Claire Forlani is playing the guy's beautiful but wicked,
scheming stepmother. Claire Forlani is Joan Collins now? Wow. I really did
miss a few years along the way.
Young Hallam took to living in a high treehouse when his mother died,
murdered - or so he thinks - by his step-mother. One wall of the treehouse
contains a giant photo enlargement of mom, fronted by candles, incense, and
the other accoutrements of shrinehood. From his lofty arboreal vantage point
Hallam engages in his two favorite activities: peeping on people with his
binoculars, and swinging down from the tree half-naked while wearing a badger
on his head.
Needless to say, relations between his father and stepmother are somewhat
strained by the constant accusations that stepmom killed mom, and the strain
is exacerbated to the breaking point when Hallam and stepmom have sex in the
treehouse. His rich dad kicks Hallam out of their country estate. The boy
migrates to London where he takes up life as a homeless person. Nothing
motivates him until he sees a pretty woman who looks exactly like his dead
mother. He stalks her and, when she turns out to be in the middle management
of a hotel, cajoles a busboy job from her. Given the rather poor pay for
17-year-old busboys and the rather high costs of life in London, he makes a
home by nesting inside the clock tower of the hotel, which also turns out to
be ideal for his avocation as a Peeping Tom. Conveniently, the mom look-alike
lives nearby, and Hallam can spy on her. Eventually he becomes more daring and
climbs the roofs until he can actually watch his surrogate mom from her own
skylight. He even watches her having sex. The married slimebag she's sleeping
with finds out that Hallam is watching, so he gives her an extra vigorous and
dominant rogering, then looks up at Hallam to show the lad that he's aware of
him. Eventually Hallam will also end up in a sexual relationship with the
look-alike mom, and that doesn't go too badly until she finds out (in a rather
dramatic fashion) about the peeping. She's also not too thrilled with the fact
that the lad thinks he's fucking his mom. Those elements put kind of a damper
on the relationship, but Hallam needs to reconcile with her, and with his
If you liked those 1960s British dramedies about lovably quixotic loonies, you will
find this to provide some excellent faux nostalgia. The kid from Billy Elliott, now pretty much
grown (he's actually 21, but turns 18 in the film), does a good job at
negotiating the fine line between a dangerously demented stalker and a
troubled but ultimately good person. We neither like nor hate him, but somehow
find ourselves engaged in his life anyway.
There is no nudity from Claire Forlani except for one frame of her bush
(see the collage, third row down, far right). There is a brief bit of hurried and
highly edited exposure from Ruth Milne. Sophia Myles shows her breasts in a pretty
wild sex scene. Jamie Sives shows his arse in that sex scene. That Billy
Elliott kid (Jamie Bell) seems to show his own arse constantly, as the crazy
are wont to do.
The film clips and the green-bordered collages have been done by other
people. (There wasn't much sense in my duplicating the film clips from the
same source, and there's no meaningful nudity from the other two women.)
This thriller represents the American directorial debut of a Hong Kong
legend, Andrew Lau, who directed Infernal Affairs, the excellent film which
inspired The Departed. It stars two fairly important actors, Richard Gere and
Claire Danes. The budget was $35 million.
And it never got released in the USA, although it was filmed two years ago.
That should tell you something. Since you can assume it is not woefully
inept, the proper inference is that the subject matter is so dark and the
narrative style so aloof that no distributor felt it had commercial potential.
It languishes in limbo, released neither theatrically nor on home video in
North America, but seen in various countries across the world.
Richard Gere plays a crusty old caseworker for the Department of Public
Safety, whose job is to monitor the progress of registered sex offenders. This
job is his entire life. He tries to do it as well as can be done and considers
all of his co-workers to be slackers. His obsession with every tiny detail of
his assignment does not go down well with the sex offenders, who find his
treatment of them to be invasive and illegal. If only they knew! When
he's not badgering them officially, he's donning a hood and attacking them at
night! Even without knowing about the nocturnal attacks, Gere's boss finally
decides that he's more trouble than he's worth and forces him into retirement.
Claire Danes plays the newest recruit of the department. She will replace Gere
in a month, and the two of them will spend the interim as partners, while
getting her acquainted with the caseload. In the course of the training, Gere
becomes aware of the abduction of a local school girl. He thinks that one or
more of his offenders are responsible, and he becomes certain of it when they
start taunting him anonymously.
Gere is not a police officer, but the real police have too many cases to
handle to obsess on a single one, so Gere's monomaniacal pursuit becomes the
missing girl's only hope. Danes realizes that Gere is not a normal person, but
she is eventually swept up by his idealism, even while realizing that his
methods are often misguided and even illegal. She resolves to help Gere find
the kidnapped girl, despite her superior's adjurations to the contrary.
I mentioned that the film was dark. That applies to the cinematography as
well as the themes. You'll get the picture most accurately if you think of
SE7EN, although the monsters in this film have neither John Doe's imagination
nor his library card. These are not your troubled, non-violent sex offenders
like Kevin Bacon in The Woodsman. They are the kind who kill their victims
after torturing and maiming them. They are simply dark and ugly, and they
conduct many of their perverted activities in grungy warehouses, deserted
trailer parks, abandoned farms, and other places which you would hope never to
see except through the safety of a screen. It's more like SE7EN meets 8MM
meets Hostel 2, although I, for one, was relieved that most of the nastiest
activities took place off camera.
The direction is filled with all sorts of strange choices: speed-ups and
saturation changes and pauses and jump cuts which make the film even more
aloof than it would be to begin with. The characters portrayed by Danes and
Gere and not really developed to any great extent, and what we know of Gere is
not something we can really admire, so there are no moments of normalcy to
break the mood. It's just an unrelieved journey into the minds of violent sex
offenders, interrupted only by detours into the caseworker's mind, which is
not much more pleasant to visit. Unlike many projects with a similar premise,
like SE7EN or The X-Files, there is no witty or intelligent banter or lively
debate between the partners or with the baddies.
I should make one thing clear. These themes could easily force a film to be a moral fable or a serious drama. This film has some elements of
both, but is really designed to be ... er ... "enjoyed" ... as a thriller. It is not a bad movie, and Gere turns in yet another good performance which
nobody will see, but it makes absolutely no attempt to connect to
audiences, and it has nothing special to offer, so one can understand why the
money men felt it unsuitable for distribution, even after having sunk $35
million into it.
It's surprising for a film with this subject matter, but there is very
little nudity because the worst stuff happens off-camera. Cyd Schulte provides
some brief exposure as a willing victim of S&M games who panics when things
get out of control.