The high contrast black and white photography of Faces shows the harshness that middle class has become, but it is the acting and performances that draw out the beauty of human-kind. John Cassavetes once again presents a story that reveals love by exposing the weaknesses that is beneath our tough exteriors.
Richard (John Marley) and Maria Frost (Lynn Carlin) are on the verge of ending their fourteen-year marriage and the two find themselves realizing their new beginnings apart by taking different paths of freedom. Richard retreats to the home of a prostitute (Gena Rowlands) to join in on the drinking with her friend and two other drunks. Maria and a few friends find a club where she meets Chet (Seymour Cassel).
Chet ends up offending, ignoring, and flirting with Maria's friends, only to later sleep with Maria. The next morning, Maria overdoses on Chet's sleeping pills and Chet provokes her to vomit and barely able to keep her from certain death. The film ends with Richard discovering Chet's escape and takes off in pursuit. Richard returns and the film ends with both Maria and Richard sitting on the stairs, defeated and out of love.
If the characters in Shadows grew up, they would be the characters in Faces. While Shadows portrayed life just on the brink of a major counter-culture, Faces reveals the emptiness and depression within the middle-aged and middle-class. Maria and Richard are looking not just for a youthful night of sex and love, but they are searching for the youth they formerly use to possessed and enjoyed.
Cassavetes shows both the finer moments of life, contrasted by the more terrifying dramatic moods swings. This shows the true dramatic emotions that humans can go through in our daily lives. This notion is evidenced by the cinéma vérité style of improvisation, consumer lighting sources, and both handheld and jerky tripod use; all of which contribute to presenting terrifyingly realistic moments in the characters lives.
The jazz score, especially with the music number at the club where Maria wanders into, has a compassionate rhythm that matches the love and compassion that Cassavetes chooses to explore. The improvisation of the jazz band matches the improvisation of the the camerawork and the talent in this film.
The drunken stupors of the characters does not make the film more realistic, but provides the viewer with a relatable behavior. All of these drunken moments are captured as if it was completely candid, since the camera appears to always be pointed at moments that could only be created off the cuff. The noticeably tight, extreme close-ups offers a deep look into the darkness and depression within these characters, possibly the most realistic element of this film. We see the lines of wisdom and age in Richard and Maria, and the youthful glow of Chet and Jennie.
The contemporary nature of Faces has the same statement as many modern independent films, even for its time, as independent film did not get major media attention until early 1990s. The contemporary ideal of many independent films is the ability to portray life unfolding in front of our eyes, and the camera's eye. While it also has a timelessness in the 21st century, it fits well with the ideals of the French New Wave and the counter-culture of the 1960s.
The ending shot of an empty staircase exposes the the definite uncertainty of life, a common symbol that is used often in thrillers and horror films. Yet there is something far more horrific about the ending of Faces—Maria and Richard have now seen their failings within the popular consensus of society.