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At his best, director John Woo turns action movies into ballets of blood and bullets grounded in character drama. Face/Off marks Woo's first American film to reach the pitched level of his best Hong Kong work (Hard-Boiled). He takes a patently absurd premise--hero and villain exchange identities by literally swapping faces in science-fiction plastic surgery--and creates a double-barreled revenge film driven by the split psyches of its newly redefined characters. FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) must play the villain to move through the underworld while psychotic terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) becomes a perversely paternal family man while using every tool at his disposal to destroy his nemesis. Travolta vamps Cage's tics and flamboyant excess with the grace of a dancer after his transformation from cop to criminal, while Cage plays the sullen, bottled-up agent excruciatingly trapped behind the face of the man who killed his son. His attempts to live up to the terrorist's reputation become cathartic explosions of violence that both thrill and terrify him. This is merely icing on the cake for action fans, the dramatic backbone for some of the most visceral action thrills ever. Woo fills the screen with one show-stopping set piece after another, bringing a poetic grace to the action freakout with sweeping camerawork and sophisticated editing. This marriage of melodrama and mayhem ups the ante from cops-and-robbers clichés to a conflict of near-mythic levels. --Sean Axmaker
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Top Customer Reviews
Before watching FACE/OFF completely, I had taken a look at one of director John Woo's Hong Kong action epics, THE KILLER. I must say, I prefer FACE/OFF better. Sure, both films have that same over-the-top operatic style, but at least FACE/OFF isn't as shamelessly sentimental as THE KILLER was. In THE KILLER, Woo's main characters both demolished hundreds of extras in graphically bloody style, and towards the end it got a bit too much even for me. In FACE/OFF, the gore isn't quite as graphic, and while the body count is still pretty high, it never got to the point that I was disgusted.
I'm not a knee-jerk admirer of John Woo as some people are. That slow-motion technique of his can become wince-inducingly excessive, especially now that many lesser action directors have started to rip off his style. In this case, though, one is too engrossed in the plot and in awe of the high-energy action staging to notice.
Of course, most people probably already have an idea of what the plot is about: criminal Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage) dies, but he has planted a bomb somewhere in LA, so obsessive detective Sean Archer (John Travolta) literally swaps identities with his arch-nemesis to go undercover at a high-tech prison to find out where that bomb is. Obviously, this situation leads to various complications as Troy wakes up from his coma, takes Archer's face, kills the doctors who performed the operation, and then tries to find Archer. It's the typical body-switch, and I would be remiss to mention that Troy is responsible for the death of Archer's son many years ago, and thus Archer has a vendetta against him that explains his obsessiveness.Read more ›
First, the lead actors get to do the characters they do best as fully as they know how. Cage is his typical, neurotic, repressed, and emotionally conflicted self. Travolta hams it up in the outlandish, larger-than-life way that he often does. Despite what could be seen as overacting by both the leads, the almost absurd disparity between them is one of central things that makes this movie work.
Second, this movie has the most beautiful action sequences of any action movie I have ever seen (excluding epic-type movies, i.e. LOTR, Star Wars, Braveheart, etc.). This is a film that knows it's an action movie and revels in it. The cinematography in the fight scenes simultaneously displays the nature of the characters and the intensity of the battle between them. There are so many moments when you will just delight at the visual art that is every action sequence in this film. Needless to say, this movie has all the gunfights, fistfights, chases, and large explosions that one would expect in a serious action film.
If you like action movies, this is the first one I would recommend.
Troy of course awakens, discovers what happened and has the doctor put Archer's face on his own. Now each man is behind the mask of the man he hates most. (Everyone I know says "if I lost MY face, I would not smoke a cigarette where my lips used to be", as Troy does in one of the grossest images in movie history.)
Turns out Troy has a family as well (as does Archer - he has a teenage daughter as well as his wife) and each must tell their family what is going on and gain their trust, all the while impersonating the other in a race against time.
As with all John Woo films, this does not end with almost every vehicle imaginable (car, boat, etc) blowing up in a chase. This gets tiresome fast.
But overall, a very good, creative film.
John Travolta and Nicolas Cage are excellent in their roles; having to transfer from good guy to bad guy and bad guy to good is handled very well by these two actors who get better as they mature. ALthough Nicolas has a couple of scenes that border on hamming it up, he nevertheless conveys the grief and hopelessness he is forced to deal with. Travolta meanwhile goes from dull agent to sassy villain with immaculate ease.
Joan Allen, one of our finest actresses, does a marvelous job as Travolta's wife; Alessandro Nivola as Troy's nerdish brother oozes demonic sleaziness; Gina Gershon as Sasha does a very good job as Troy's mistress; Dominique Swain (Lolita) gives a nice turn to Travolta's misguided teen; Nick Cassavette as the baldpated Dietrich, Harve Presnell as Travolta's overwrought superior; John Carroll Lynch as the prison guard; CCH Pounder as one of the agents responsible for the switch, and even Thomas Jane (The Punisher) in a brief role as a downhome prisoner---all add to the quality of the movie and its outcome.
This one packs a punch and even though lengthy, it certainly held my interest. The speedboat finale is awesome!
Most recent customer reviews
I didn't think this was a very good film....it is boring, at least that's how I found it. Not high on my list of the all time greats!Published on Feb. 27 2014 by Dave
This is a great action packed movie with two phenomenal actors!so totally worth watching over and over again and again!Published on Jan. 20 2014 by lisa ruttle
This movie is definitely in my top 50.If you are looking for action and something a little more different than all of the other movies out there; give FACE/OFF a shot.Published on March 9 2013 by Tanisha
This is a Paramount title, and they are HD DVD exclusive, thus this won't be avilable in Blu Ray.Published on Oct. 25 2007 by Jim S. Spencer
he best movie in the ear 1997 it is perfect action good and adventure good nice acting for john travolta and nice acting for nicolas cagePublished on July 17 2004 by joey
This John Woo action movie doesn't really bring any great surprises to the table, but it is a highly entertaing, and well done film. Read morePublished on May 28 2004 by email@example.com
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