If Steve Buscemi says Faces is his favourite movie, do you need any more reason to watch it? It is a great film that’s undoubtedly the best of John Cassavetes’ directorial outings and one of the most piercing movies about mid-life crises ever made.
Richard (John Marley) is an aging man who feels trapped by his safe but dull marriage. While he can still have fun with his wife, everything else seems more fun and interesting than his domestic existence and so he leaves her, asking for a divorce. He wants to start a relationship with a younger woman called Jeannie (Gena Rowlands), although it’s not clear how interested she is. Richard’s wife, Maria, gets seduced by playboy Chet and embarks on a new relationship of her own.
Although it’s often said Faces in shot in a cinema verite style, it isn’t, as Cassavetes’ direction and editing is actually quite complex and certainly not just pointing a camera as if it’s purely a window into reality – although you could perhaps describe its style as acting-verite. What it does do extremely well is unpick the malaise of middle-class, middle-aged life, where everything except their own life seems interesting and how their comfortable existence makes them feel untouchable. Richard is a wonderful creation, a man who’s part charmer, part sad sack and part monster. His casual cruelty is cutting and revealing, getting to the heart of his own arrogance and that of those around him.
It’s thought provoking, engrossing and as with all Cassavetes movies, filled with wonderful sequences. The director obviously worked hard with the actors to try and reveal as much as possible in the various set-ups. It ensures that each of the rather episodic set-ups is absolutely piercing, creating fully rounded characters that seem as if they’re delving deep into the problems and desperation of middle class life. It’s certainly not a hopeful movie, suggesting that the best we can expect is to understand ourselves, rather than being able to improve and find happiness.
This new BFI release includes the movie on both DVD and Blu-ray. However if you’re hoping for a pristine print in HD, you’ll be disappointed. It’s a very grainy picture, which doesn’t affect the power of the movie but doesn’t look particularly brilliant. However the film is good enough that it doesn’t need perfect picture quality, as it’s undoubtedly one of the masterpieces of early US indie cinema and the film above all others that proves Cassavetes deserves his lofty reputation.
If you’re interested in how Cassavetes worked – which was to often produce several versions of a movie before honing it down to a final cut – the DVD version includes an alternative opening sequence from an earlier, longer version of the movie. There’s also a lengthy and illuminating interview with Seymour Cassel, who was Oscar nominated for his performance in Faces.
Overall Verdict: Faces is probably John Cassavetes greatest film. A piercing, deep and impeccably acted look at the arrogance and malaise of middle-class life.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac