Face/Off (1997) starring John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain, Nick Cassavetes directed by John Woo Movie Review

Face/Off (1997)   4/54/54/54/54/5

John Travolta and Nicolas Cage in Face/Off

Two Faced

"Face/Off" is what an action movie should be all about, far fetched plot, good verses evil and enough testosterone injected, firework laden action scenes to leave you gasping for air and forgetting how ludicrous the movie truly is. Add to this two of Hollywood's top stars in the shape of John Travolta and Nicolas Cage trying to out gun each other at every possible opportunity as well as one of the hottest directors around and despite being rather lengthy at over 2 hours you have "Face/Off" an adrenalin packed, high octane rollercoaster ride of sheer entertainment which will have you on the edge of your seats.

Having finally tracked down the psychotic Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage - Con Air) and leaving him in a comatose state, special agent Sean Archer (John Travolta - Michael) worst nightmare happens when they discover that Troy had planted a huge bomb somewhere in Los Angeles. His only hope of discovering the location of the bomb is to go through a revolutionary face swapping operation with the comatose Troy and befriend his imprisoned brother.

Nicolas Cage as Castor Troy with choir girl in Face/Off

Surprisingly "Face/Off" starts off on a high whilst also setting up the history between the characters of Troy and Archer. Usually you get one or the other but in this case "Face/Off" delivers just the right amount of back story giving you solid reasoning whilst also signalling what to expect from the rest of the movie. As I previously mentioned the set up for the movie which is the face swapping is ludicrous, well it definitely seemed that way back in 1997 when "Face/Off" was released but maybe after recent medical break throughs it is not that far fetched after all. But which ever way you look at it, the whole premise of the movie pushes the realms of believability but does it in such a way that you don't really care whether it is a load of hokum or not as you are too engrossed in what is happening on the screen.

The actual concept of taking on someone else's appearance and persona is in fact nothing new, but the way it is executed within "Face/Off" is pretty good and allows for some interesting sub plots and interactions. The way Caster, now looking like Archer, gets involved with his family is actually quite scary as having seen how depraved he can be you can imagine his thoughts when he is watching Archer's daughter on the phone whilst only in her underwear. But like wise with the way Archer, now acting as Troy, gets involved in the murky underworld and is forced to act as a criminal is marvellous to watch. To be honest there are so many memorable scenes in "Face/Off" that it really does leave a lasting impression on you.

As previously mentioned the main attraction is not so much the plot but the action and this is definitely one of the most impressive action movies I have seen in many a year, and surprisingly still holds up well despite being over 10 years old. Whilst "Face/Off" is definitely jam packed with stunning special effects, amazing action sequences and plenty of slow motion camera action it never feels like they have over indulged with any of them. It is rare that I can say that despite being heavy on action I was actually wanting more and more and to be honest right up until the climax it kept delivering bigger and better sequences even when I thought they wouldn't be able to top what they had already done.

A lot of praise on making all these action sequences work so effectively has to go on director John Woo who having been given a Hollywood budget to make "Face/Off" has used every bit of it wisely and shown that the early promise he showed in the likes of "Broken Arrow" was just a sign of things to come. Occasionally the action sequences did look slightly fake but for the majority of the movie I have to say that I was very impressed with how well they were created and definitely had the desired effect of keeping me mesmerized.

Now down to the acting and the characters and whilst I will readily admit to being an unadulterated fan of Nicolas Cage I have on occasion been less than impressed with John Travolta. But in "Face/Off" they both deliver some of the most entertaining performances the big screen has seen in this movie genre for a very long time. With characters at two different ends of the scale, with the psychotic and disturbing Castor Troy to the more homely but work focused Sean Archer they both get chance at playing both types of character, giving their own slant on each of them. Maybe I am a bit biased but for me Nicolas Cage comes out on top, with his portrayal of both Troy and Archer. The whole time he manages to become the character in question and manages to imitate the mannerisms set out by Travolta when he was Archer. One of the best sequences which show how well he becomes the character in question is early on when dressed as a priest he gropes the backside of a choir girl and the psychotic look on his face is just amazing. That is not to detract anything away from Travolta who is equally impressive as Cage is as portraying both characters. The scene where he is watching Archer's daughter in her underwear is amazingly creepy and praise goes to both actors for being able to mimic each other so effectively and despite a slight strut in one sequence we actually have a movie where Travolta doesn't do any dancing, shocking I know.

Whilst the soundtrack of the movie is not the most memorable, and personally I found this beneficial as it didn't detract from the onscreen glory, there are two pieces which rightly stick in my mind and deserve a mention. In an early sequence we see Troy dressed as a priest walking through the building where he has planted the bomb and comes across a choir singing "The Hallelujah Chorus". Not only does this sound impressive but when joins in as he gropes one of the choir girls is brilliantly choreographed and sticks in your mind. The other piece which sticks in my mind features in a rather action packed sequence where bullets and explosions are flying around all over the place. In the midst of all this action is a young boy with headphones on listening to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" sung by Olivia Newton John, seeming oblivious to the carnage go on around him. What is so noticeable about this piece other than it does seem slightly out of place is that the scene is brilliantly choreographed to it.

What this all boils down to is that I am impressed with "Face/Off", for me it is everything that a modern action movie should be fast paced, action packed, stylish and attention grabbing. If I was to be totally honest I have only one real criticism of the movie, and that is at over two hours long it is slightly bum numbing, but then again I cannot see any part of the movie which could have been cut. Although the plot may be slightly far fetched, the real focus of the movie is the exceptional special effect laden action sequences and the absolutely brilliant performances from Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. This is definitely a movie I would recommend especially if you are looking for a movie which is not too heavy on plot but stuffed to the rim with action.