Film review – Face to Face (2011)

8 September 2011
Face to Face: Wayne Travers (Luke Ford)

Wayne Travers (Luke Ford)

Wayne Travers (Luke Ford) is potentially facing jail after repeatedly ramming his former boss’s car in a rage after being fired. Wayne is angry, resentful and sullen while his boss Greg Baldoni (Vince Colosimo), who was in the car at the time, is understandably upset. Instead of going through the court system Wayne is allowed to take part in a community conference where he confronts Greg, other former work colleagues and a handful of other people connected to the incident. What seems like a straightforward situation with Wayne clearly in the wrong and not showing much remorse soon becomes far more complicated through the conference process.

The release of Face to Face could not have been better timed considering some of the current debate in the Australian media over criminal sentencing. According to some commentators offenders are getting off too lightly and that’s due to the courts and judges being out of touch with community values. This attitude was proven to be a myth by the report Public judgment on sentencing: final results from the Tasmanian Jury Sentencing Study, released in February this year. In the report it cites a study of 698 jurors; 90 per cent of who felt that the sentences handed down on cases they had served on were ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ appropriate. 52 per cent would have handed down lighter sentences. While this report significantly vindicates the courts it also reveals that once people know all the details behind a crime, they are less likely to respond with a knee jerk call for tougher sentencing. Once mitigating factors and background information comes to light, issuing blame and culpability can become so much more complex. This is what Face to Face is about.

Over the course of the film we discover that behind Wayne’s anger are varied factors that don’t excuse his behaviour but help to explain why he responded the way he did. Wayne is not let of the hook, but at the same time it becomes apparent that being the victim of workplace bullying over a sustained time has taken a toll that many of the people in the conference room with him shoulder a lot of responsibility for. Face to Face almost functions as a mystery film where over the course of the conference various secrets and events are revealed to dispel many of the assumptions the audience are encouraged to feel about Wayne in the beginning.

Face to Face: Jack (Matthew Newton)

Jack (Matthew Newton)

While flashbacks are successfully integrated to flesh out the back-story, Face to Face is essentially a single location film set in the conference room with all the actors together for nearly the entire film. Working in Australia again for the first time in almost 10 years, director Michael Rymer makes sure the camera is continually being repositioned around the actors to keep each shot fresh and to best channel the enormous energy that transpires from having so many strong characters and actors all in a confined space together.

While 12 Angry Men is a fitting comparison film, Face to Face also evokes the excellent 2008 Australian film Men’s Group, which had a smaller cast and more external scenes, but was still significantly comprised of group discussion scenes between the main characters. However, while Men’s Group incorporated very large amounts of improvised dialogue, Face to Face feels heavily scripted and indeed the end credits reveal that it has indeed been adapted from a stage play by David Williamson. Many of the characters certainly feel like typical Williamson characters as they take on almost archetypal characteristics to convey specific values and attitudes within Australian society. This mostly works and it allows the film to cover an extraordinary range of contemporary issues. Not only is Face to Face about workplace bullying and how we perceive a criminal act, but it also covers pack male behaviour, racism, worker exploitation, infidelity, class conflict and domestic violence. Sometimes it does come dangerously close to feeling like a checklist of important issues, but it is ultimately successful in pulling together all the threads to provide an insightful study into human behaviour, how situations spiral out of control and the shifting nature of guilt, culpability and victimisation.

Face to Face: Claire and Greg Baldoni (Sigrid Thornton and Vince Colosimo)

Claire and Greg Baldoni (Sigrid Thornton and Vince Colosimo)

Where the film is less success is the overtly theatrical dialogue that just doesn’t feel quite right on film. Especially at the start, some of the lines are over explanatory and too reliant on language to define the characters. It is blatantly a script that has come from the stage and onto the screen, seemingly with very little alteration to compensate for this transition to the more visual medium of cinema. Nevertheless, the resulting almost unintentionally stylised dialogue does settle down as the film progresses and nearly all the actors overcome these issues. Small moments of humour are also successfully weaved into the film to strategically lighten the mood when required.

Initial distracting staginess aside, Face to Face is compelling cinema that showcases a marvellous group of performers. Ford and Colosimo are the standouts, but the whole ensemble, which includes Sigrid Thornton and Matthew Newton, are also great. The emotional roller coaster that the characters go through, where they confront their misdeeds to understand how they all played a part in what happened, is genuine and authentic. Face to Face deals with a disturbingly recognisable aspect of mainstream Australian culture in its depiction of a pack tormenting a weaker element, or being complicit in the torment by doing nothing, and how this behaviour is all too often laughed off as ‘taking the piss’. Perhaps more importantly, it is convincingly optimistic that once presented with all the facts, people are capable of making compassionate and rational decisions. In a time of so much misinformation, hype and sensationalism, Face to Face offers some welcomed hope.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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Film review – Animal Kingdom (2010)

31 May 2010
Animal Kingdom: Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren Cody (Luke Ford)

Andrew 'Pope' Cody (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren Cody (Luke Ford)

Very loosely inspired by the Walsh Street police murders in 1988, Animal Kingdom is an Australian crime drama that doesn’t feel like anything else that has come before it. Tonally it owes more to Rowan Woods’s excellent drama The Boys rather than other Australian crime films like The Square, Gettin’ Square or The Hard Word and yet it still follows the conventions of a crime drama to result in a complex and gripping piece of cinema.

At the centre of the film is Joshua ‘J’ Cody (played by newcomer James Frecheville), a socially inept and introverted teenage boy who goes to live with his grandmother Janine (Jacki Weaver) after the death of his mother. Janine’s sons (played by Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Sullivan Stapleton and Luke Ford) are career criminals whose lives are increasingly under treat from a group of vengeful and trigger-happy detectives.

Craig Cody (Sullivan Stapleton) and Janine Cody (Jacki Weaver)

Writer/director David Michôd achieves a remarkable intensity throughout Animal Kingdom with his command over film style. Director of Photography Adam Arkapaw’s superb slow and fluid camera movements often creep up behind characters or emerge from behind obstructions to give many scenes a sense of paranoia and vulnerability. Composer Antony Partos’s haunting music often consists of a slow series of heavy notes but the result is an atmosphere of utter menace. One scene where a television in the background plays the video clip to Air Supply’s softrock hit “All Out Of Love” is made extraordinarily creepy by the addition of Partos’s music to really reinforce the threat posed by one of the characters.

Michôd takes an extremely low-key approach to the violence so that it never has a chance of becoming entertaining spectacle. Violence is an important part of Animal Kingdom but it occurs quickly, often without warning and in an almost muted way. The result is that the actual physical acts of violence are not under scrutiny but we are instead compelled to focus on the aftermath to confront the horror of what has happened and the fact that human beings are capable of such acts. The violence in Animal Kingdom is never graphic but it is always chilling.

Animal Kingdom: Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) and Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce)

Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) and Nathan Leckie (Guy Pearce)

While Animal Kingdom is a tightly written and expertly directed film it still owes much of its power to its fantastic cast. James Frecheville is remarkable as J and the film really takes advantage of the fact that Frecheville is the unknown actor amid many of Australia’s finest and most well known performers (also including Guy Pearce). For most of the film Frecheville is a blank slate – almost the ultimate innocent bystander – but in one key scene where he does emote he gives a performance in one or two minutes that many actors strive for throughout their entire careers.

All the actors playing the Cody brothers are wonderful but it really is Ben Mendelsohn who shines as Andrew ‘Pope’ Cody. Pope is first discussed in the film as being the one everybody else feared but when we first see him he looks so inconsequential that you cannot help but wonder if there was an error in the script. However, as the film builds Mendelsohn brings a simmering furiousness to Pope that is truly terrifying. Mendelsohn constantly keeps this energy right below the surface so that it is never obvious but always present enough for us to see it and dread what he could be capable of.

Animal Kingdom is the best crime film ever made in Australia and it’s one of the best crime films full stop. Michôd really gets us into the world of these characters in a way that makes them completely fascinating without ever glorifying the destructive lives they lead. A film like this should horrify and revolt you but when it is this well crafted and so lovingly and intelligently made by everybody involved, the results are captivating.

Listen to Thomas Caldwell’s interview with actors James Frecheville and Luke Ford.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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An interview with James Frecheville and Luke Ford from Animal Kingdom

30 May 2010
Animal Kingdom: Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) and Luke Ford (Darren Cody)

Joshua 'J' Cody (James Frecheville) and Luke Ford (Darren Cody)

James Frecheville makes his feature film acting debut in Animal Kingdom playing J, a teenage boy who goes to live with his grandmother Janine, played by Jacki Weaver, after the death of his mother. J is exposed to a world of violence and criminality via his four uncles, in particular the very dangerous Pope, played by Ben Mendelsohn.

While promoting Animal Kingdom I spoke with James and Luke Ford, who plays J’s youngest uncle Darren. The pair spoke about creating the dynamics between the family members and in particular Ben Mendelsohn’s methods of creating tension on set that would carry over into the film. James spoke about the key scene in the film where J’s virtually blank exterior breaks down during a brief outpouring of emotion and Luke, who previously won an Australian Film Institute award for his portrayal of an autistic boy in The Black Balloon, spoke about how he gets into the head of a character.

This interview was recorded on Monday 24 May 2010 and then played on The Casting Couch on Saturday 29 May 2010. The interview took place in the hotel where the actors were staying so the sound quality is not as good as a studio recording.

Download link (interview running time = 8:50)

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