Wordy drama written for the theatre rarely makes for great cinema, and Michael Rymer’s Face to Face is a perfect example of the challenges a filmmaker faces in transforming a dialogue-driven story set in one room into a big screen experience. And whilst he definitely makes the best of it – with top-drawer performances and some action-orientated cinematic flashbacks, this still feels like the stuff of stage or small screen.
The dialogue comes from the pen of playwright David Williamson who used real life transcripts of workplace conflict resolution sessions as the basis for a story about an impetuous construction worker Wayne (Luke Ford) who assaults his boss Greg (Vince Colosimo), resulting in facilitated mediation becoming his last chance to avoid going to jail. Joining Wayne and Greg in one room for the get-it-off-your-chest session is Wayne’s mum and best mate, Greg’s wife, two fellow construction workers, along with Greg’s Accountant and Personal Assistant. Facilitating this motley crew – who mostly don’t want to be there – is Jack (Matthew Newton).
What’s fresh and surprising about the film is how this simple dramatic premise unfolds – or rather explodes – as a tangle of murky behaviour and suppressed feelings. Everyone in the room, it seems, has some spleen to be vented about someone else, and once the narrative rhythm of reveal and rant is established, you just start waiting for who’s going to drop the next bombshell. Some of the poisonous complexities seem raw and real, particularly the savage workplace taunting involving a couple of absent characters called Nookie and Macca. Other revelations seem like unlikely coincidences developed only as a way to keep the incestuous plot bubbling along: the character of Wayne’s mate Larry in particular, suffers from this manipulation.
All credit to Rymer for some deft direction – in particular pacing the film so carefully and seamlessly integrating the drama as the focus moves from bullying to sexual harassment to drug abuse, racism, infidelity, corruption, domestic violence and industrial sabotage. No wonder poor Greg – wonderfully played by Colosimo – seems to have only a brittle grasp on his business.
The ensemble cast are superb, with Sigrid Thornton tightly strung as the woman behind the man, Robert Rabiah in screen-grabbing form as Hakim, the tough persecuted Muslim co-worker and Ra Chapman sensitive but deeply resentful as Greg’s quiet Accountant. It’s also another strong outing for Luke Ford with a difficult and demanding role. Shot over 12 days and without rehearsal, it’s a fine piece of ensemble acting that maintains a natural energy, and, despite being unable to break free of its theatrical origins, the film is never dull.