Ray is an ex-socialist turned bank robber, who gathers a gang of has-beens to pull off a robbery. But when it all goes Pete Tong, the gang dissolve in a flurry of murderous recriminations.
Movie heists are configured to go wrong, it’s a fact of film lore. But here Antonia Bird and her screenwriter, sometime novelist, Ronan Bennett, are aiming to plant a political subtext into this hoariest of thriller tenets. Ray, Robert Carlyle’s resolute leader whose plan it is to raid a security firm depot, is a disillusioned socialist who has turned to crime to kick back at a system that has crushed his ideals. And the working class lives of his fellow villains, are shown shorn of glamour, a clutch of miserable, needy crooks oppressed by years of Thatcherism.
Fair enough, Brit crime films have often thrived with political underpinnings, both The Long Good Friday and Get Carter ponder the ills of capitalism, but here it is too deliberate. Even Gerry Conlon, the real man falsely imprisoned for the Guilford pub bombings (as depicted in In The Name Of The Father) turns up for an early cameo to add another layer of credence to their right-on credentials.
But it soon becomes apparent the political definition is not matched by depth anywhere else. Face is all surface, where Ray Winstone’s Dave is yet another hard-nosed East End villain, and Philip Davies the inevitable nutjob in the pack. All hell, is about to break lose when he gets greedy, a fact that could be read as anti-capitalist, but really is just a thumping great cliché. Things are going to get bloody, Antonia has seen Reservoir Dogs, there’s a traitor in the group.
To grant it some latitude, the heist sequence is mounted with stunning ferocity, a pumping sense of the pure adrenaline rush of high crime, but when the haul turns out smaller than expected they just set about one another with foul mouths and crowbars. The guys are good enough actors, urgently trying to push roles they’ve been played to death somewhere new (Steven Waddington does a brave job with another age-old trope, the worried simpleton, and Damon Albarn doesn’t embarrass himself) but in the clamour of the film’s furious second half logic and nuance get smothered in implacable violence.
There’s an inventive twist as the remaining gang members attempt to reclaim the loot that has been stolen and ended up in a police station, but this remains the same old same old.
With Face, the British crime thriller comes roaring back to life, earning a mention alongside such greats as The Long Good Friday and the brilliant Get Carter. Antonia Bird jostles Scorsese depth with Tarantino style, creating a hybrid that creates a unique cinematic vision of London's contemporary underworld.