Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Michael Rymer
Stars: matthew Newton, Luke Ford, Vince Colosimo, Sigrid Thornton, Laura Gordon, Chris Connelly.
Face To Face marks the first local production from AFI award winning Australian director Michael Rymer (Angel Baby, etc) following a decade spent working on American television, with series like the revamped Battlestar Galactica, Fast Forward, etc. It also marks his first feature since the bitter and disappointing experience of working on the big budget Queen Of The Damned, which was ultimately compromised. But he returns to the big screen with this fiercely engaging and entertaining drama that ranks as one of the best local films of the year.
Recently sacked from his job at a scaffolding factory, Wayne Travers (Luke Ford), an emotionally-charged, hot tempered, but naive and trusting construction worker, rams his car into the back of his boss’s luxury car. Rather than facing court and possible jail time, he’s given the chance to explain his actions in a resolution conference led by moderator Jack (Matthew Newton). Wayne cannot fully comprehend why he was sacked. He and Greg Baldoni (Vince Colosimo) are given an opportunity to air their differences, while former work colleagues and others who have been affected by the conflict are also allowed a chance to voice their opinions. The various characters argue their positions, which are shaped by their own prejudices, bitter experience and personal baggage.
What initially seemed like a straightforward incident becomes more complex as more people have their say. They shed new light on what happened, which, in turn, forces the audience to shift their own moral alignment and perspective. The film deals with heady issues such as workplace bullying, harassment, racism, worker exploitation, infidelity, class conflict, domestic violence, and restorative justice, and it also has a lot to say about contemporary Australian society and attitudes.
Most of the action takes place inside a single location – the community hall – giving the film the claustrophobic feel and confined look similar to that of Sidney Lumet’s 1957 classic Twelve Angry Men. Face To Face is actually based on David Williamson’s 2000 stage play, which was based on actual transcripts from mediation sessions. The film wears its theatrical origins comfortably, but Rymer opens up the drama through a series of flashback sequences. The film is a strong, gripping and claustrophobic drama that taps into some powerful emotions, but it is also tempered with some unexpected doses of humour.
Rymer has assembled a superb ensemble cast that brings these flawed and vulnerable characters to life.
Ford, an AFI winner for his remarkable performance in The Black Balloon, continues to add to his impressive resume with yet another wonderfully complex performance that makes Wayne a rounded and three dimensional character. The more we discover about his background the more our initial attitude and perception changes.
Colosimo is also excellent as his boss who is forced to face a few home truths about what was happening both in his business and at home. Sigrid Thornton makes the most of her role as Claire, Greg’s long suffering wife, who exposes much of the couple’s dirty laundry. Laura Gordon is also good as the sexy and ambitious secretary Julie, who is painfully aware of her own limitations and failings. Chris Connelly is strong as Richard, the factory foreman who was aware of many of the issues but failed to act.
And it is impossible to ignore the irony of Matthew Newton’s casting as Jack, the crisis counsellor who is running the mediation session, especially given his off screen troubles. But Newton’s performance is strong and he brings authority and sensitivity to his character.
Brilliantly written, superbly acted, and directed with a keen insight into the failings of human nature, Face To Face is one of the best local productions in what is shaping up to be a strong year for Australian cinema.