Review: PHANTOM HALO Never Quite Decides What It Wants To Be
Antonia Bogdanovich's feature debut Phantom Halo can never quite figure out which direction to head in. Part family drama, part crime thriller, these two ideas are not necessarily antithetical, and each in and of themselves is not necessarily bad (though each is more than a little cliched). But finding a balance of tone and a steady rhythm is difficult in a film that can't make up its mind, despite efforts on the part of the actors.
Samuel (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and his older brother Beckett (Luke Kleintank) live on the brink of poverty with their drunk gambling-addicted father Warren (Sebastian Roche). Samuel performs monologues from Shakespeare in the street, while Beckett pickpockets onlookers. But they need more cash, fast, or risk serious harm from a local loan shark. Beckett falls in with an old school friend Larry (Jordan Dunn) and the two start a counterfeit money-making scheme under the nose of Larry's criminal boss. Meanwhile, Beckett begins an affair with Larry's mother (Rebecca Romijn).
Bogdanovich and co-screenwriter Anne Heffron start off with a reasonable story, if the dialogue is a bit tired. Samuel is practicing his lines for his street show, Warren (a washed-up actor) instructs him on the proper performance while smacking him. This seems to be focusing on Samuel, his struggle to survive (literally and figuratively) with his overbearing father, obviously wanting more form his acting talents but unable to realize them without a proper education or means to further his schooling. He escapes into his favourite comic (of the title), but even this isn't a fully realized metaphor, as the film suddenly switches to focus on Beckett.
Beckett is the street-wise brother who knows that petty crime is the only way they'll put any food on the table. As a domestic drama, it's not bad even if it is derivative. But when Beckett starts getting involved in crime in order to pay off his father's debts to a local criminal, the film switches gears and tries to be a street-wise thriller in which Beckett, with rather too much speed, starts overspending his newfound wealth. His affair with Rose seems tacked on to give the story some spice, but there is little chemistry between the actors and Rose's story is better suited to the domestic drama than the crime thriller.
As the film keeps switching in tone and intent, it loses track and momentum on both stories. As we get attached to Samuel, he disappears from the film; Beckett is far less interesting a character, and his descent into the criminal underbelly predictable to the point where you wish he would just get caught and have done with. When the superhero subtext returns at the climax, it seems an afterthought, as if Bogdonavich has only just remembered it was there and threw something in. Which is sad, because the domestic drama is far more interesting and strong that the crime thriller.
As hard as the actors work (particularly Brodie-Sangster and Roche), this is ultimately an unsatisfying film, trying to do and be too much, rather than narrowing its focus. It loses its way quickly and can't seem ot find its way back.
Phantom Halo is available on DVD in the UK and the US.