Mister Foe gives our culture's fascination with the oedipal complex some new life in that it appears in the title character, Hallam, after the death of his mother. Based on the book of the same name, director David Mackenzie argues for a more specific explanation to Hallam's behavior. Namely, that the stirring physiological whirs of sexual self-discovery colliding with the grief from the loss of a mother functions as a perfect storm that sends Hallam huddling away in his tree house, donning face paint like an androgynous warrior and spying on various lovers.
This type of material seems ripe for a Larry Clark or Gus Van Sant type of teen perversity or old man peep show justified under the guise of "art film", but Mackenzie quickly moves beyond that when he establishes Hallam as young man emotionally frozen in time yet physically capable of surviving on his own. Missing is the baby face vulnerability and underwear-model pondering that Clark and Van Sant get off on. (Think about the casting for both director's films of late. They argue that it's a reach for naturalism, but I suspect it's more a fascination with newbie cuties.)
What drives Mister Foe is the lovable and natural performance of Jamie Bell. It's easy to take Bell for granted. We've grown to expect solid performances even when he appears in less than stellar films (his was the sole reason that made trudging through the only 90 minute Jumper, worth it). He has the instincts of a wise actor with the baggage of someone coming of age in the modern world. Veterans Maurice Roeves and Claire Forlani seem humbled in scenes with Bell, and even the intrinsically magnetic Ewan Bremner must fight for spotlight during their shared screen time.
Two years after the death of his mom, Hallam's father remarries. The new step-mother butts in and manipulates him into leaving the house, while Hallam starts suspecting her of tampering in his mother's demise. In public - looking for work, being resourceful, or getting out of trouble - Hallam is outgoing, charismatic, fearless. Yet alone, he recoils and clings to his mother's belongings as if he's working towards a final catharsis. Meanwhile, a young woman bearing a striking resemblance to his mother complicates things.
It's here where Mackenzie confronts some of Mister Foe's most interesting ideas yet also finds himself falling into spats of meandering downtime and confused intentions. The conflict resolution between Hallam and Kate (an adorable Sophia Myles) is too convenient and tidy. It betrays the complicated issues that Mackenzie intriguingly brought about to begin with. You get the sense that he doesn't quite know how to work his way though this but for only to rush to the films final end.
Mister Foe is a tween movie that doesn't exist between the pre and teenage years, but in that blurry period between graduation and working for a living. In its best moments, the film convincingly explores a psychological condition that oftentimes gets played-up for it's erotic aspects and not at trying to understand the origins of its forbidden impulses. Bell and Mackenzie should be congratulated for their attempt to stay human and thus reject the easy road of being "arty" and naughty.