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Australia 2011
Directed by
Michael Rymer
88 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Face To Face

Synopsis: A young construction worker, Wayne (Luke Ford), rams into the back of his boss’s Jaguar in a fit of anger at being sacked. Rather than fronting court, he’s given the chance to explain his actions in a moderated  meeting with the people immediately involved in his actions including his boss (Vince Colosimo) and his boss's wife (Sigrid Thornton) as well as his co-workers, best mate and mother.

David Williamson may well be our premier playwright but filmed versions of his stage works, even when adapted by himself, have not fared so well. Yet with Face To Face we have the most satisfying adaptation of a Williamson play since Bruce Beresford’s The Club (1980). As with much of Williamson’s work, the text has an agenda but it does not strain to achieve it, and in the hands of director Michael Rymer, who was also responsible for the film script, abetted by consistently fine performances from a varied ensemble cast, it is an entertaining and enlightening film. What more could one ask for?

Like the 1957 classic, 12 Angry Men, a film with which both Williamson and Rymer are no doubt familiar, Face To Face shifts between two main aspects – the intense discussion between a group of people that is taking place in a single room and re-creations of the events they are discussing. Also like Lumet’s film, the essence of Face To Face is the journey of self-examination that the characters make as they travel from their initial postures of public probity to their often-reluctant admissions of flawed behaviour. The stakes may not be as high with Rymer’s film but if this lessens the tension, on the other hand it ranges across a wider scope. For whilst the specific issue under consideration is Wayne’s unacceptable behaviour, Face To Face is really about the human comedy and how we all rationalize our less-than-perfect actions with deceptions and self-deceptions of one kind or another.  

Williamson and Rymer deserve equal credit for the way that this insight is brought to light. Williamson, for his well-observed characters and skilfully crafted exposition of the gradual un-masking process, Rymer for his transposition of the original stage play to the unforgiving requirements of the big screen.

At the frontline of a film of this nature are the actors and Face To Face has a wonderful ensemble cast of new and old faces. Vince Colosimo, Sigrid Thornton, with Matthew Newton as the meeting moderator, deliver typically professional performances, with Colosimo winning as the increasingly embattled plaintiff whose righteous indignation unravels under scrutiny. Opposite them are the less well-known Ra Chapman, Lauren Clair, Chris Connelly, Laura Gordon, Robert Rabiah and Josh Saks, all of whom bring their characters to life with resounding believability (even the rather improbably good-looking Laura Gordon convinces with the help of Williamson’s crafty pen). It is, however, Luke Ford who is the stand-out – his seemingly effortless Wayne perfectly embodies the mixture of charming naiveté, good-natured cunning, and frustrating lack of self-awareness that explains why these people are gathered together to try to, in one form or another, justify their treatment of him.

Face To Face is based on actual case work by the Victorian Association for Restorative Justice and showcases its alternative model for conflict resolution.  As such, it is a synoptic treatment of real life instances, which doubtlessly do not have the polish of what we see, but as such, in addition to its entertainment value, it is a stimulating educational tool for anyone interested in such matters.




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