A heavily-armed gang. A heist gone pear-shaped. A member of the gang who's a lying, ratting stoolie. It all sounds suspiciously like Reservoir Dogs, but Face's a thoroughly British crime flick. For one, there's no gratuitous earlobe-trimming. Two, there're no black suits and shades in sight and three, its very British stars include Trainspotting's Robert Carlyle as the eponymous Face, along with Ray Winstone, the superb Phil Davis, and (amazingly) Blur frontman Damon Albarn in his acting debut. In fact, this little beauty is more reminiscent of the underworld Brit thrillers of yesteryear, classics like The Long Good Friday and Get Carter.
Under the solid directorship of Antonia Bird (Safe, Priest, Mad Love), Face is unashamedly a genre film, exploring not just the dirty world of (dis)organised crime, but also the world of believable, ugly, flawed characters. All this is set against a backdrop of strong social, domestic and political issues, whisked into a froth with themes of love and friendship, respect and family, betrayal and deceit. And although it's full of the usual criminal suspects, with shootahs, motahs, bad language, pigs (the law and order kind) and birds, there's an awful lot more to the movie than this apparent stereotypical simplicity.
Face looks grimy, although it's beautifully shot. It feels gritty, mainly because it's haunted by the spectre of Thatcher's uncaring Britain, and it's streaked through with the sort of earthy, pithy comedy lines you might hear down any London boozer after a few jars. Face just oozes realism: it's full of real people bleeding; real emotional pain; real personal histories to reflect on; real people trying to get through their lives in Britain in the '90s the only way they know how.
While the plot might be the oldest of old hats, the film still has a cracking script and stunning cast to play with. Carlyle proves again that he's is a multi-faceted actor, and is as scenery-chewingly watchable as ever. Ray Winstone, Phil Davis, Stephen Waddington and Lena Headly - - as Carlyle's girlfriend - - all provide heroic support and yes, we are glad to report that pretty pop-boy Albarn is completely free of plank-like acting qualities in his cameo role (but then he did go to drama school before embarking on rock stardom). The obtrusively heavy-handed political statements might already seem dated and the action lurches into overly-frantic melodrama at the end, but Face still has more than enough to it to merit the entrance fee.