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Face (1997)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Face (1997)
35mm, 105 minutes, colour
DirectorAntonia Bird
Production CompanyBBC Films
 Distant Horizon
ProducersDavid M. Thompson
 Elinor Day
ScreenplayRonan Bennett
PhotographyFred Tammes

Cast: Carlyle, Robert (Ray); Ray Winstone (Dave); Steven Waddington (Stevie); Philip Davis (Julian); Damon Albarn (Jason); Lena Headey (Connie); Peter Vaughan (Sonny)

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A gang of professional thieves pulls off a heist, but begin to suspect each other when their money is stolen.

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Face is a gangster thriller with a political message and a definite sense of place. The action is based in the East End, Antonia Bird's home for many years, and she favours locations such as Harringay and the Isle of Dogs over more iconic parts of London. This adds a sense of realism to proceedings, but the locations also provide a framework for the class-bound politics inherent in the film.

Face relates the story of a heist gone wrong as a gang begins to suspect each other after their loot is stolen. The leader, Ray, a former trade union activist, feels defeated by Thatcherite Britain and has turned to crime, ironically embracing an individualist ethic. Although he is part of a gang which prides itself in being "staunch", it is clear its members' ideals are just a sham, as Ray's old partner Dave ultimately betrays them all for money. The criminals, who think solely of their own material gains, are contrasted with the idealistic characters of Ray's girlfriend and mother, who demonstrate in support of the Kurds. This clash of philosophies, which provides the key to Ray's character, is reflected throughout the film by background television and radio items as well as via flashbacks, alluding to political injustices dating from the Thatcher era.

Ray supplies the narrative focus, and his journey from cynical defeated criminal to a man who once again embraces collective responsibility is at the heart of the film. The flashbacks, which have the grainy feel of documentary news footage, demonstrate his internal dilemma as he recalls police brutality as a protester, which is then linked to his own subsequent bullying tactics as a criminal. His salvation lies in the refusal to abandon his slow-witted colleague Stevie, but the film remains ambiguous on whether it is too late for him to reform.

Face is a fairly conventional heist thriller, but the film rises above its generic roots through a mix of fine ensemble performances, an energetic sense of pace and style, and a dry sense of humour. The carefully planned soundtrack also complements the action, with tracks by The Clash and Gene explicitly referring to London, and songs such as 'Everything Has A Price To Pay' by Paul Weller and 'Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards' by Billy Bragg reflecting narrative themes.

David Morrison

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Video Clips
1. Communist (1:33)
2. Julian's flat (3:51)
3. It's over - they won (3:03)
Bird, Antonia (1959-2013)
Carlyle, Robert (1961-)
Vaughan, Peter (1923-)