'Phantom Halo' a noiry, seedy crime drama
Mini-review: 'Phantom Halo'
Just in time for Father's Day weekend comes the seedy crime drama "Phantom Halo," Antonia Bogdanovich's directorial debut, featuring the worst dad to grace the silver screen since Robert Carlyle drank away the money for his starving children in "Angela's Ashes."
An abusive drunk and a terrible paternal role model, Warren Emerson (Sebastian Roche) can't keep a job. He bullies his teen sons Samuel (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Beckett (Luke Kleintank) into fleecing unsuspecting tourists of their wallets. Samuel mesmerizes people on the street with his well-honed Shakespearean soliloquies, while Beckett slinks into the crowd, nimbly picking pockets and boosting money clips.
Dad loves the Bard and can't stand it that Samuel devotes himself to comic book fare, such as the "Phantom Halo" from the title.
Warren's debts have become so huge that a thuggish casino owner named Roman (Gbenga Akinnagbe) decides to do bad things to his sons until Dad pays up. A stabbing here, a lopped-off finger there.
Things look dire until Beckett's sleazy old chum Little Larry (Jordan Dunn) reveals that he has mastered the art of creating perfect counterfeit American bills in any denomination he wants.
This could be a grifter's dream come true, except that Little Larry might be the stupidest counterfeiter in the history of the trade, for he goes out and purchases a handmade Bentley automobile with cash.
"Phantom Halo" serves as a welcome antidote to Hollywood's fixation with master criminals pulling off elaborate hoaxes or robberies with Bobby Fisher-level brain power.
Yet, "Halo" succumbs to pretentious, Shakespearean voice-overs, overused musical montages (cue those rap tunes when Beckett and Larry walk in slow motion!) and inconsistent details that don't add up.
For instance, where do people get the money they dump into Samuel's hat at the end of his performances? Didn't Beckett already steal their purses and wallets?
Where does a dummy like Little Larry develop the artistic flair and technical craftsmanship to create a perfect copy of U.S. currency?
"Phantom Halo" is based on Antonia Bogdanovich's own 18-minute 2011 film short, "My Left Hand Man," also starring Brodie-Sangster of "Love Actually" fame. (She's the daughter of filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, now executive producer.)
More characters have been added since the short, especially sex-bomby Ms. Rose (Rebecca Romijn) to provide some romance for Beckett, and crime boss Smashmouth ("Saw" fixture Tobin Bell) as a backup bad guy.
Despite the cast's obvious dedicated efforts, Bogdanovich curiously studies her characters at clinical distances, preferring to observe them rather than be them.
Of course, watching a press screener with the number 44326cfa7c32 emblazoned over the screen, along with "Property of ARC Entertainment for screening purposes only" burnished across the frame, probably had a lot to do with how impersonal and detached the movie felt.
"Phantom Halo" opens at the South Barrington 30. Rated R for language, sexual situations and violence. 89 minutes. ★ ★
• Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!