Face to Face - movie review
Imagine, if you will, what the best possible workplace relations instructional video would be like. Actually, don’t bother; just go see Face to Face instead. That’s not an insult, by the way – while Hollywood would like us to think that explosions and car chases and celebrities are essential ingredients for drama (especially when it means that after they add them, they don’t have to worry about coming up with a story that makes sense), there’s over 2000 years of on-stage drama that proves just getting people together to talk is all you need to keep audiences in their seats.
Face to Face starts off with nine people coming into a hall for a mediation session chaired by Jack (Matthew Newton – in light of his troubled personal life the tagline here really should have been “he can solve anyone’s problems but his own”). If it sounds stagey, that’s because it is: this is based on a play by David Williamson, which was itself based on transcripts from actual conflict resolution sessions. Filmed plays don’t always come to life on-screen, but writer / director Michael Rymer uses a lot of roving camerawork and plenty of flashbacks to expand this beyond the confines of a bunch of talking heads.
The first flashback sets the scene for why they’re all here: Wayne (Luke Ford) crashed his ute into a car belonging to his boss Greg (Vince Colosimo) after being sacked. In his bosses’ driveway no less, which didn’t exactly impress Greg’s wife Claire (Sigrid Thornton). Despite all the carnage and verbal abuse, Wayne doesn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of his actions. In fact, not only does he not want to apologise, he wants his job back. Even his mum (Lauren Clair) concedes Wayne’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.
As Jack slowly teases out the events leading up to the crash, a slightly different story emerges. Wayne may have gone on a rampage after being sacked for sexually harassing the shy office accountant (Ra Chapman), but was it really all his fault when the whole workplace is rife with bullying, bad business decisions, exploited workers, marital infidelity and racism?
That’s a pretty impressive checklist. On the whole though, this segues relatively naturally from one hot topic to the next, even if after a while you start to realise some characters are only hanging around so they can bring up the next drama. The tension as Jack struggles to keep everyone in the room helps hold things together; if either side takes offence and walks out, the next stop for Wayne is jail.
Quality performances all around also stop this from feeling like a box ticking exercise. By the time the fourth or fifth hot button issue comes up (child abuse? Check) most of the characters are fleshed out enough to feel like real multi-layered people who just happen to be tackling a variety of problems at home and at work.
Just as importantly, there’s a surprising amount of humour here. It’s hardly a comedy, but Wayne’s clueless demands, Greg’s self-justification, Claire’s dry wit and the cynicism of secretary Julie (Laura Gordon) help balance out the despair of Wayne’s mum and the anger of co-worker Hakim (Robert Rabiah). Not that anyone here is merely comic relief – the humour comes naturally from their personalities and the situation they’re in. Which is a sign of good writing, and a reminder of just how rare it is to see it in an Australian film.
Face to Face isn’t perfect. Having the only real villains turn out to be the two co-workers who didn’t show up feels a little like the moral of the story is “always go attend conflict resolution sessions, because they’ll blame everything on you if you don’t.” A couple of the plot twists are a little too convenient, and at least one of the characters adds almost nothing to proceedings. But for a film that is still mostly just people in a room talking – and more importantly, for a low-budget Australian drama, a category that often rings alarm bells – Face to Face impresses in just about every way.
- Four stars
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