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Venkatesh’s inclinations to spy and stalk appear instinctively childlike compared to the similar habits of Hallam Foe, the thoroughly unlikable protagonist of David Mackenzie’s Glasgow- and Edinburgh-set Mister Foe. We’re supposed to believe that Hallam’s obsessive peeping into people’s homes and most private moments is just as involuntary—and hence forgivable. The 17-year-old’s mother, after all, allegedly committed suicide a few years back, though he suspects her death was the work of Dad’s chilly new wife. His sister and only ally has left for school. What’s a depressed boy to do but slather on war paint, break into apartments, and watch family and friends have sex?
Hallam (Jamie Bell) chooses to live in a treehouse on his family’s significant estate, interacting with his father (Ciarán Hinds) and stepmother, Verity (Claire Forlani, somehow a better actress when affecting an accent), only when necessary and falling asleep next to a giant wall hanging of his mother’s face. After an absurd and heated (in more than one sense of the word) confrontation with Verity, Hallam moves to Edinburgh, penniless. But that’s OK, because the kid not only has a knack for finding janitor’s closets or crawl spaces in which to sleep, he can also talk his way into a job. The day after he arrives, he spots Kate (Sophia Myles), a radiant woman who could be Mummy’s twin. He follows her and sneaks into the employees’ entrance of the hotel where she works. Serendipitously, Kate is the HR manager; seconds later, Hallam is hired as a kitchen drudge.
That’s not the only luck Hallam has. Naturally, he follows Kate home, and lets himself in to her flat when she’s not there. When she is, he finds a convenient skylight from which to watch her. (Hallam has a thing for rooftops.) But when he takes a break during one of his shifts and explores the hotel, Hallam finds something even better: a clock tower, with enough space to make a nice studio and a perfect sightline into Kate’s bedroom. Aww, she bites her toenails and kickboxes! Whoa, now she’s getting banged hard—anywhere and everywhere, and by their married boss, too. Of course, Hallam doesn’t care for this, and he tries his hand at blackmail.
Do you like him yet? You won’t care for the other characters, either; with the exception of Hallam’s understandably curmudgeonly kitchen trainer, everyone is cold, uncharismatic, and unsympathetically fucked up. Based on Peter Jinks’ novel, the final installment of Mackenzie’s “sex trilogy” (preceded by 2005’s Asylum and 2003’s dreary Young Adam) is so strenuously edgy it’s tiresome. Bell, so sweet in Billy Elliot, hasn’t exactly been a charmer in his adult roles, choosing characters in Jumper and now Mister Foe who are downright irritating and unsympathetic. Yet here Hallam’s crimes are presented as mere antics—his first night on his own is a montage of him wandering seedy alleys and being mistakenly chased by cops in a downpour—and he’s apparently such an irrepressible, irresistible scamp that older birds can’t help but bed him.
More annoying is Mackenzie’s overly obvious musical cues, with precious indie tracks from artists such as U.N.P.O.C., James Yorkston, and Franz Ferdinand spelling out Hallam’s every emotion. Mister Foe does turn intriguingly dark at the end—Hinds, always a compelling presence, finally becomes human when his character reveals a devastating secret—but the subsequent jump to Hallam’s redemption is more like a gigantic leap. As his misery is alleviated, yours is further goaded.