Review by James McDonald
Brothers Samuel and Beckett Emerson are barely scraping by. Their father, Warren, continues to gamble and drink away any money they bring home. With all the havoc that is constantly going on in their lives, the family members each find solace in his own way, through Shakespeare, comic books and impossible love affairs.
“Phantom Halo” is a fictitious comic book superhero who appears periodically onscreen courtesy of the imagination of Samuel (Thomas Brodie-Sangster). The comic books that Samuel reads spark his imagination because along with his older brother Beckett (Luke Kleintank), they live with their alcoholic father Warren (Sebastian Roché) in a suburb of east L.A. so imagination is a necessity in order to survive. Warren gambles any and all money the two boys bring home every day and is in way over his head with the neighborhood loan shark Roman (Gbenga Akinnagbe). Samuel, like his father before him, has a love for Shakespeare and every day, along with Beckett, he reads the Bard aloud to the passing crowds, keeping their concentration while Beckett steals their wallets.
One day Larry (Jordan Dunn), an old friend of Beckett’s, spies him stealing and approaches him afterwards with a job offer. When Beckett inquires what the job would entail, Larry informs him that he produces counterfeit money for his cousin but is ready to break out on his own and needs his help. Currently, he is only capable of printing five and twenty dollar bills but in order to print hundred dollar bills, he requires Beckett’s cooperation in stealing a bigger machine for the critical print job. Beckett agrees for a cut of the action and once the machine is in their possession, they begin printing like there’s no tomorrow, buying expensive cars, eating at fancy restaurants and picking up any woman they desire. But things at home only proceed to get worse.
Roman pays Beckett a visit and cautions him that if his father can’t come up with the money in two weeks, he will return whereby he will exact punishment on him and Samuel. When a meeting pertaining to a possible partnership in regards to printing large quantities of money for a local crime boss nicknamed Smashmouth (Tobin Bell) goes awry, Beckett makes his way home, with the intent of leaving town with Samuel, only to find Roman waiting for him and just when things couldn’t seem to get any worse, Smashmouth makes an appearance and both Beckett and Samuel must act quickly, if there is any chance of them leaving town with their lives.
Director Antonia Bogdanovich’s feature film directorial debut is a gritty and realistic representation of society’s crestfallen and their overall disheartened perspectives. Living in the ghetto has become a way of life for Beckett and Samuel and even though they both dream of moving far away, when the opportunity presents itself to them, they are both reluctant to seize the opportunity, years of mental and verbal abuse having taken its toll on them. Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Luke Kleintank are both excellent in their respective roles as long-suffering siblings who fight and squabble daily but who would also die for each other. Sebastian Roché as their alcoholic father depicts a sad, lonely and defeated shadow of a once-strong man who has lost his zest for life and for his boys too.
Rebecca Romijn is the one character here who is not utilized to her full potential. As the mother of Larry, both her and Beckett strike up a somewhat awkward romance that feels like it was added at the last minute in order to give Beckett something more to do than just drive around in a fancy car and suit. While Ms. Romijn does a commendable job with the material at hand, her character is so thinly drawn that you never really get an understanding of where she’s coming from or indeed, where she would like to go. This one criticism aside however, “Phantom Halo” is raw in its unrelenting narrative and is quick to remind us that no matter how bad we think we might have it, things could always be worse.
Available now on DVD and Digital HD