FACE TO FACE
Young construction worker Wayne (Luke Ford) rams into the back of his boss Greg's (Vince Colosimo) Jaguar in a fit of anger after being sacked. Rather than facing court, he's given the chance to explain his actions in a resolution conference led by moderator Jack (Matthew Newton). This face-to-face confrontation between the young man, his boss, his boss's wife Claire (Sigrid Thornton), Greg's PA Julie (Laura Gordon), the accountant, Therese (Ra Chapman), his co-workers Richard (Chris Connelly) and Hakim (Robert Rabiah), best mate Barry (Josh Saks) and mother Maureen (Lauren Clair) lifts the lid not only on his dysfunctional life but on their workplace secrets and private dirty laundry, turning all of their lives upside down.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There is enough dramatic juice in this screenplay that it would work even in its one-room setting - much like Sidney Lumet's magnificent 1957 film, Twelve Angry Men - even without the reenactment flashbacks that reveal the actions that have brought this group of characters together.
In Lumet's film, the jury holds the fate of a troubled young man (who we never see) in their hands, and at the start, 11 of the 12 were ready to vote guilty. Not convinced, one man, Juror No 8, memorably played by Henry Fonda) stands firm against the frustrations and bullying of his fellow jurors. Things aren't as simple as they looked at first ...
A troubled young man is also at the centre of Face to Face.
In a large community hall, the eight central characters sit in a rough circle with moderator Jack (Newton) at the head. The process is just talk, but based on actual resolution transcripts, David Williamson carved out a play that goes straight to the essence of the human condition, and writer/director Michael Rymer has adapted that into a powerful, engaging film that delivers insight and emotional punch.
This is an ensemble performance piece and everyone has to be pitch perfect to make it work, and they are. The risk is that the screenplay turns into a series of soap opera revelations, but this is easily avoided by sensitive writing and focused direction, together with exceptional editing.
Using actual resolution transcripts has the merit of bringing authentic interactions and realistic snapshots of human failings in the characters. It's the sort of labyrinth that makes us think, 'you couldn't make this stuff up'.
Newton reminds us what a magnificent actor he is, oozing sensitivity and quiet authority as the moderator. (The irony of the film reflecting on Newton's much publicised private difficulties was not intentional, director Michael Rymer told Andrew Taylor of the Sun Herald; it was made in 2010, and received no public funding.)
Every other character is as well defined and is as credible; Colosimo and Thornton are explosive together as husband and wife dragged into the spotlight with both their business failings and their marriage problems. The resolution conference drags out truths not only of Wayne's dysfunctional life but on workplace secrets and the others' dirty laundry, turning all of their lives upside down. Nobody escapes the ethical cleansing.
Rabiah is sensational as Hakim, a hard talking realist whose beef with his boss starts the sparks flying. But there is something he, too, could and should have done better. Ford is haunting as the troubled youngster Wayne. Each character is flayed and seeks forgiveness, but how this is all done is what makes the film such a success.
Juggling the personal betrayals with the business failings, the screenplay is a rounded and polished work while the intensity of the performances makes the drama edgy and dynamic.
The flashbacks show us the incidents that make up the backstory to each of the key elements that give emotional weight to the journey we take with these characters.
What appeared simple at the start - an angry young man lashing out against his boss for firing him - grows in complexity and intensity as the characters are made to reveal motives and grudges, weaknesses and ambitions that have festered beneath the surface.
Astringent and gripping, Face to Face is a triumph.
First published in the Sun-Herald
Review by Louise Keller:
With its endless stream of dramatic revelations, Michael Rymer's Face to Face is gripping cinema. Adapted from a play by David Williamson, the structure is surprisingly simple, in contrast to its characters and the events that take place. Depicting the present, emotions are exposed in a mediation setting in which all the characters meet face to face. The past, where all the actions take place, is shown in a series of flash-backs, which in turn forces the characters to confront their actions and emotions.
Anger, resentment, blame and revenge are the key issues canvassed and like a ball of wool in the hands of a playful kitten, the story keeps unravelling until unspoken issues are aired and souls examined. Surprising, touching and engrossing, this is the ever-complex and compelling nature of human behaviour on display.
Guilty or innocent? Perpetrator or victim? The premise of the story is outlined in the very first scene in which Jack (Matthew Newton) is the counsellor moderating a gathering of people involved in an assault. At first glance, things appear to be straightforward. Wayne (Luke Ford), an emotionally-charged, rather simple construction worker has intentionally rammed into his boss Greg's (Vince Colosimo) car and threatened him. He had been given the sack. In flashback we watch Wayne's symbolically red truck smash into the back of his boss's sleek white Jaguar - again and again.
As all the participants tell their stories, a different picture emerges as secrets are spilt. These include infidelity, harassment, racial discrimination and abuse. Ford's raw performance as the vulnerable, trusting Wayne is perfectly pitched; clever writing allows our perceptions of Wayne to totally change, even though his behaviour is constant. But this does not apply only to Wayne.
It's a strong ensemble cast with Colosimo effective as the successful construction company owner with the roving eye and the outwardly perfect life, Thornton ideal as the boss's elegant wife, Laura Gordon as the office hottie in search of perks, Ra Chapman as the timid accountant, Chris Connelly as the foreman, Robert Rabiah as the worker of Middle Eastern descent (but proudly Aussie) and Lauren Clair as Wayne's glamorous mother. Considering recent events concerning violence and abuse, it is difficult to ignore the irony of Matthew Newton's role but Newton is excellent as always and continues to be a great Australian talent.
Everyone is vulnerable and as secrets and suppressed emotions are exposed, drama, humour, humility and regret mesh together like the ingredients of large pot of stew on the brink of bubbling over. This is a thoroughly engaging film with plenty to say and allows us to come face to face with not only the facts, but all the elements that make life anything but black and white.
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FACE TO FACE (M)
CAST: Vince Colosimo, Sigrid Thornton, Luke Ford, Matthew Newton, Robert Rabiah, Chris Connelly, Josh Saks, Ra Chapman, Laura Gordon, Lauren Clair, Dom Phelan, Glen Maynard
PRODUCER: Gabrielle Christopher, Leanne Hanley
DIRECTOR: Michael Rymer
SCRIPT: Michael Rymer (play by David Williamson)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Dennys Ilic
EDITOR: Sasha Dylan Bell
MUSIC: Richard Gibbs
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Australian Film Syndicate
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 8, 2011
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