FILM REVIEW: Santa Barbara Festival Winner 'Face to Face' Is Feisty, Engaging

Feisty and engaging Australian indie will win over virtually all audiences it will find. 

The Australian indie -- which starts out as a simple case of a wild youth's violence but soon reveals a far deeper set of ills -- grabs the audience's attention at the outset and never lets up.

Everyone's dirty laundry gets raised up the flagpole in Face to Face, a bristling little Australian indie that lands its many punches with pungent power. Within the format of a community conference -- an Australian technique of airing differences with the hope that reconciliation can avoid official legal proceedings -- what seems like a simple case of a wild youth's violence fans out to expose a far deeper and comprehensive set of ills.

Winner of the Santa Barbara Film Festival's independent feature award, this smartly enacted issues drama snaps the audience to attention from the outset and never lets up, suggesting that an enterprising distributor could make this click in a variety of formats, from limited theatrical runs to VOD and cable. International festivals, especially those partial to low-budget independent fare and cater to local more than industry audiences, should take note.

Originally written as a play "based on actual case notes" by Oz's top veteran dramatist and screenwriter, David Williamson (Gallipoli, Don's Party, The Year of Living Dangerously), Face to Face gathers 10 people in a single room to consider the fate of Wayne (Luke Ford), a volatile working class kid who, as the first of a series of flashbacks reveals, recently followed his boss Greg (Vince Colosimo) up the latter's driveway and deliberately rammed his pickup into the rear of Greg's Jag, doing damage to both the car and man.

That Greg, who runs a scaffolding construction company, had just sacked the Wayne may be the reason but it is no excuse for the mayhem, and the fact that Wayne seems like an impulsive dolt from the start makes the case look pretty simple. However, it doesn't take long for the deceptively mild-mannered mediator, Jack (Matthew Newton), to coax Greg's employes Richard (Christopher Connelly), Hakim (Robert Rabiah), Julie (Laura Gordon) and Therese (Ra Chapman) to reveal the nasty ways they had all been toying with the gullible guy, which in turn opens the floodgates for them to spill a litany of workplace grievances about Greg, who suddenly seems to be the one on trial, not Wayne.

This pivot, taking place in close quarters with the opposing parties sitting across from one another, reminds of the classic of this format devoted to revealing different perspectives within a group proceeding, Twelve Angry Men. At the point when Greg is bombarded from all sides, it seems that the piece's motivations have switched rails from the strictly dramatic to a lynch-the-rich exercise in class warfare, especially when he's attacked for running a non-union shop.

But while a current of anti-capitalist bile runs underneath the entire proceedings, Williamson's text, neatly adapted by director Michael Rymer (Angel Baby, In Too Deep), spares no one, from the attractive secretary Julie, who has strung Wayne along as a gag enjoyed by everyone else, to Wayne's supportive mate Barry (Josh Saks), who is reprimanded for doing his buddy no favors for standing up for no matter what idiocy his friend might perpetrate. Greg's wife (Sigrid Thornton) and Wayne's mum (Lauren Clair) also get pulled far deeper into the muck than they would have imagined.

In some ways, the resolution conference resembles a more polite and constructive form of Court TV or The Jerry Springer Show, in which the participants are encouraged to let it all out. The real-life hope here is that everyone will kiss and make up, figuratively speaking, and it's to Rymer's credit that he makes the repeated apologies and conciliatory hugs as funny as they are. One wonders how often this sort of conference actually works and whether it would be possible in a more polarized and socially and racially mixed society such as the U.S. But it is eye-opening and has here been made the stuff of very lively drama.

Performances are sharp down the line and the film, which was shot in 12 days with the new DSLR camera equipment, has a bold look and is never claustrophobic.

Venue: Santa Barbara Film Festival
Production: Face to Face Prods.
Cast: Vince Colosimo, Sigrid Thornton, Matthew Newton, Luke Ford, Lauren Clair, Christopher Connelly, Laura Gordon, Robert Rabian, Ray Chapman, Josh Saks
Director-screenwriter: Michael Rymer, based on a play by David Williamson
Producers: Leanne Hanley, Gabrielle Christopher, Michael Rymer, David Williamson
Executive producers: Nick Orloff, Kaz Emanouel
Director of photography: Dennys Ilic
Editor: Sasha Dylan Bell
Music: Richard Gibbs
No rating, 88 minutes