This modest but thoroughly gripping pic is based on a bank holdup and hostage drama that rocked Finland in 1986. Lauri Torhonen’s tautly directed thriller should find fest exposure and TV playtime without difficulty.
Opening scenes are a trifle gimmicky, as Torhonen takes the film’s title literally and never shows the face of the title character, a disturbed man (Tom Poysti) on the edge of a breakdown. Separated from his wife and children, bankrupt and desperate, he decides to go out literally with a bang. Torhonen films him from behind, or in shadow, so he remains unidentifiable until the moment he dons a stocking mask and enters a suburban Helsinki bank with a shotgun and a bag full of dynamite.
What follows is an almost comically botched heist that becomes a fine exercise in suspense. There are 11 people in the bank but not enough money for the gunman’s needs, so he has one of the tellers call the police and demand a large ransom, plus getaway car. But the police simply refuse to respond, and as time ticks by the gunman gets more and more hysterical and the victims more and more nervous. When the man sets the timer on the explosives, a bank customer is finally able to convince the police to bring some ransom money.
The bandit assigns a British tourist to drive the getaway car and takes, as volunteer hostages, the two most attractive women employees of the bank. They set off with a police convoy in hot pursuit and wind up in the Finnish countryside.
Torhonen gradually tightens the screws on the long journey north, as the hostages come to realize that the police are totally unsympathetic to their plight and that the gunman is about to go over the edge.
The explosive climax, for which Torhonen inserts authentic original TV coverage of the drama, is blamed on the ineptitude of the police handling of the incident, though the film ends ironically, as it began, with the voice of the interior minister reporting to the country’s president that the police did a good job.
If this had been a U.S. film it would certainly have had more urgency and adrenaline, but Torhonen is more concerned with the effect of the intense drama on the hostages. He gets fine performances from Jonna Jarnefelt and Stina Rautelin as the two women caught up in the terrifying incident, while the unseen Poysti, as the gunman, successfully relies on his voice to make an impact.
Almost a docu-drama, “The Faceless Man” is a thriller for audiences who want realism rather than high-tech mayhem. Production is tops in all departments, except for Heikki Laakso’s lackluster music score, which fails to give the pic the extra edge a good score would have provided.
Dialogue is entirely in Swedish, presumably because of a tie-in with Swedish TV.