'Phantom Halo': Film Review
Antonia Bogdanovich, Peter's daughter, makes her feature debut with this story of two brothers who get caught up in a criminal scheme.
Proving that it's possible for a film to be original and derivative at the same time, Antonia Bogdanovich's feature debut mashes together tropes from a wide variety of genres into a nearly unpalatable whole. Although its sheer audacity has to be admired, Phantom Halo ultimately hoists itself on its own petard.
The film, whose executive producer is Peter Bogdanovich, the director's father, centers on the misadventures of siblings Samuel and Beckett — you read that right — and their father Warren (Sebastian Roche), a faded Shakespearean actor plagued by addictions to alcohol and gambling.
To make ends meet, the younger Samuel (a very affecting Thomas Brodie-Sangster, of Game of Thrones) takes to the streets of Santa Monica to deliver surprisingly accomplished Shakespearean monologues while Beckett (Luke Kleintank) picks the pockets of the surrounding crowd.
Unfortunately, their efforts are not enough to pay off their father's considerable gambling debts to a local gangster, Roman (Gbenga Akkinnagbe), so when Beckett learns of his friend Larry's (Jordan Dunn) thriving counterfeiting business, he eagerly becomes his partner. He also takes the opportunity to woo Larry's gorgeous single mother (Rebecca Romjin), who eventually succumbs to his advances.
Despite the new influx of cash, things don't go well for the clan. Samuel, who's shoplifted the ingredients for a birthday cake for their missing mother from a Korean grocer, gets the tip of his finger chopped off by the grocer's daughter in revenge. And when Warren manages to get his hands on a fortune of the fake bills, he promptly goes on another gambling spree and loses it, further attracting retaliation from both Roman and another criminal, the colorfully named Smashmouth (played by Tobin Bell of Saw fame).
It all leads to an ultra-violent, bloody denouement in which several of the major characters wind up wounded or dead.
Infused with colorful elements (Samuel is obsessed with the comic book that gives the film its title, imagining himself to be able to draw on superhero powers), Phantom Halo certainly reveals considerable imagination. But Bogdanovich, working from a script she co-wrote with Anne Heffron, doesn't have the filmmaking finesse to fully realize its stylistic conceits, with the result that the absurd plot contrivances becomes all the more glaring.
Still, there is something there. The complicated relationship between the father and his sons has a genuine emotional resonance, displayed in such scenes as when he tells the clearly talented Samuel, "You're good, but at your age I was better" or when the family sits at their kitchen table around a candlelit birthday cake, forlornly waiting for the wife/mother who never arrives.
It's in those moments, rather than the complicated crime scenario, that Phantom Halo comes to vivid life.
Production: Station 8 Films, Optimism Entertainment
Cast: Luke Kleintank, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Sebastian Roche, Jordan Dunn, Tobin Bell, Rebecca Romjin, Gbenga Akkinnagbe
Director: Antonia Bogdanovich
Producers: William Blaylock, Brian Espinosa, Gabriela Revilla Lugo
Executive producer: Peter Bogdanovich
Director of photography: Gavin Kelly
Production designer: Stephanie Haas
Editors: David Moritz, Javier Alvarez, Dan Padgett
Costume designer: Luellyn Harper
Composer: Jason Lazarus
Casting: John Jackson
Rated R, 89 min.