“A revolutionary medical technique allows an undercover agent to take the physical appearance of a major criminal and infiltrate his organization.”
Directed by: John Woo, Rated: R, 138 minutes
Oh, John Woo, your style of film-making is oh, so incredible. Incredible shootouts, great use of reflections, and yes, even the doves make your movies so damn fun to watch. Throw in a handful of Michael Bay-sized explosions and Nicolas Cage and your formula is almost too perfect to deny. With Face/Off, a film I have somehow avoided for 23 years, Woo makes a story that on paper, sounds like the most ridiculous thing on the face of the earth (no pun intended). It genuinely works and works well, and you’re kind of left baffled after the fact. It’s fun, entertaining, and for an action flick, as its two leads, John Travolta and The Cage, kicking a lot of ass in both the physical and acting departments. Looking back, seeing Travolta channel is inner Cage is most certainly a selling point. How I ignored this film for so long, I have no idea.
Sean Archer (Travolta) and Castor Troy (The Cage) are rival enemies on opposite sides of the law. Archer is a badass FBI agent who’s taken down a ton of the world’s biggest criminals. Unfortunately, Troy has been the one criminal that’s alluded him his entire career. Not only is Troy a disgusting, violent, and evil man, but he also killed Archer’s son, thus, Sean’s got quite a bit of hatred towards the man. Luckily, Archer finally tracks down his man and puts him in a coma. Case closed, problems fixed, etc., right? Well it just so happens that Troy has planted a bomb in Los Angeles and the FBI need to figure out where it is and fast. A new program, designed to alter the physical appearance of an agent (literally removing one’s face and implanting it with another) proves to be the quick solution to the problem. Archer will take on the persona of Troy (face, voice, and all) and find out where the bomb is before it takes out half of L.A. Seeing as this is an action flick meant to be enjoyed by the masses, the plan does not go as well as the FBI hoped for and the once-comatose Troy awakens and is a bit more angry than usual. He then takes on Archer’s face and voice and persona and identity, kills those involved with the operation, and leaves Archer, as Troy, to rot in prison. What started off as a quick undercover mission has turned into Archer stuck between a rock and a hard place, and left to figure out a way to prove who he really is, reassume his identity (and his family), and take down Troy once and for all.
See? I told you that sounded crazy. The idea behind the plot is so far removed from reality, it’s hard to believe, but Face/Off manages to make it more of a driving force behind the story than a real focal point. We quickly assume and completely accept the fact that Travolta is Cage and Cage is Travolta and we’re not left questioning why. It happens, we’re okay with it, and we sit back and watch the rest of the film. It’s quite amazing actually, because once the movie ends, you don’t walk away thinking it’s ridiculous or cheesy, you think you just watched a pretty damn fine film. The face swap also leads to some of the best parts of the movie, such as seeing Travolta channel his Cage and blends a bit of the Wild One with the good ol’ Danny Zuko we love. It’s so fun to watch you can’t help but love the crap out of it, especially knowing where these two men are today in their careers. It’s also refreshing seeing Travolta as the villain, even though he’s the hero, but not because he’s the villain with the hero’s face (makes sense, right?). Cage delivers his usual performances, but is much more The Rock/Con Air Cage than the Trespass/Stolen Cage we see today. He’s at home in a role, in it’s obscurity, and really reminds you that he was once a genuinely awesome action star.
As for the action, John Woo’s thumbprint is all over Face/Off. The film features more shootouts than a summer in the Wild West and more wasted bullets than a police academy shooting range. It’s quite beautiful, actually, and as the audience we get to see hundreds, nay, thousands, of bullets screaming through the air and missing their targets by miles. Of course, the ones that actually hit their mark leave plenty of blood and seeing it all in slow motion just adds to the process. I do wonder though, had the slow motion bits (and there are a lot) been completely toned down to real-time, how much of an effect it would have on the 131 minute run time. Not that I’m complaining. While the film does have a pretty decent story between the action sequences, it still is the shootouts and chases that make Face/Off memorable. When action does hit, and boy does it hit hard, the sequences are lengthy, well choreographed, and full of so much awesome you can only sit on your couch and smile. The final chase alone warrants a viewing of this film and Woo manages to make a race between speedboats something interesting and genuinely fun to watch. The two men hate each other with fiery passion and their rage plays out in their fights, be it with guns or fists or boat anchors or harpoons.
Woo does the impossible with Face/Off and makes it one of the best action movies of the 90s. What easily could have been dismissed as a campy, forgettable action flick is instead something worth your attention and time. I have to say I am pleasantly surprised at the quality of the movie and would most certainly revisit it in the future. Face/Off is wonderfully filmed, smart (even when you think it’s far from that), and has two leading performances that elevate the movie to something great. Travolta has a blast being Cage and Cage, as I stated, shows why he’s the action hero we all used to (and still) love. Had Face/Off been made today, I don’t think it would even close to being as successful as it is now. We’re lucky it was made when it was, by the master that is John Woo, and we’ll always have it to look back on as the time something strange, yet beautiful, came together and clicked. Damn, it’s fun.
incredible action sequences that are full of shootouts, great stunt-work, and just enough blood to feed your action appetite
Travolta doing the best impression of The Cage and clearly having more fun with the role than we ever would have thought
angry, out for revenge, and with a bad case of stole identity
Four Cages out of Five
Has The Cage’s identity been stolen from him these recent years, thus explaining his awful career decisions?
Make sure to also drop by and check out my December long blogathon- Nic(k) Nacks and Facial Tics