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Directed by Antonia Bird

Some movies just leave the reviewer scratching his head, wondering what to say. The critic, after all, is supposed to fulfil some kind of interpretative function, but some films are either so good, or so bad, or maybe just so ordinary, that they render this process redundant. Face falls into the latter category. Give a synopsis of the plot, comment on the performances, and Bob’s your uncle. So, for what it’s worth, here goes.
A gang of London East End ‘faces’ - apparently a new colloquialism for ‘criminals’ - conducts a dangerous heist from a security firm’s depot. Ray and Dave are just doing their job, Julian hopes he’ll make enough to move upmarket, Stevie is doing what Ray tells him, and Jason is just starting out. The whole business starts to go sadly awry when they get away with much less money than they expected. Julian turns nasty, and tries to relieve the others of their loot, in order to cover his own expenses. After the cash has been divided and stashed, each stash mysteriously disappears. With the police on their trail, it’s a race against time to find out who has betrayed whom, and to recover the money.




The ubiquitous Robert Carlyle is an excellent actor, and is convincing as Ray, but he is wasted in an otherwise disappointing and lacklustre film. Also, while we all know about actors’ insecurities and their need to work when it’s on offer, someone should warn him about the perils of over-exposure. Ray is a complex character, an armed robber who was politically active in left-wing circles until the age of twenty-four when, during the miners’ strike, he decided he couldn’t beat the system and turned to crime as a way he could win against authority. But, as he tells Jason, cautioning him against becoming a career criminal, he’s thirty-five now, has spent five years in prison, and would have made more money in the last eleven years by driving a mini-cab. The woman in his life, Connie, is still politically involved, and works in a residential home for adolescents. His relationship with the naive Stevie, whom he met in prison and took under his wing, reveals that he still has a lot of compassion for people.
Although this determination to present the story from the villains’ point of view, and to eschew simplistic black and white moral judgements, is admirable, it could be argued that a whole host of western movies about outlaws and gangster movies about the mob have been doing the same thing for years. And the political polarisation of ‘us and them’, and the critique of the relentless pursuit of money, characteristics of life in Britain under the Tories, seem strangely out of tune with the mellower mood in that country since the election victory of Blair’s New Labour, and since the recent death of certain Princess, events which have provoked feelings of solidarity between all social strands, and an attitude of ‘We’re all just one big happy family underneath it all, and we’re all in this thing together’ (excluding, of course, the one big unhappy family said woman married into to become a Princess).
Written by Ronan Bennett and directed by Antonia Bird, whose previous work includes Priest, a film we all loved because of the feelings it articulated, a procedure which disguised the fact that it was actually a fairly sloppy film struggling under the weight of too many themes, Face also features the acting debut of Damon Albarn of Blur, who doesn’t have much to do but acquits himself well. The soundtrack, so important in productions of this type, is a folksy meandering which is nothing to write home about.
Maybe it’s just a case of ‘wrong critic, wrong film’, but to my mind Face is just another of the cops and robbers, docs and patients, royalty and commoners, celebrities and fans narratives that so exercise and enthral the public imagination. In many ways, you may as well be watching The Bill for two hours. It has all the appearances of a ‘made for TV’ movie, so why not stay at home in front of your television set? It’s bound to turn up there in the not too distant future.

First published in Film Ireland













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