Face/Off

September 27th, 2007 DVD Reviews, Film, Moviehole

Nicolas Cage is one the most interesting actors working in cinema today. He’s got the cojones to appear in something as controversial as World Trade Center. He’s as comfortable playing misfits in arthouse films (Leaving Las Vegas) as he is playing Arnie-lite action heroes in Bruckheimer shoot-em-ups (Con Air). He’s perfect in a sweet comedy (It Could Happen to You) and a gritty thriller (Kiss of Death). He’s done the good (Adaptation) the bad (Next) and everything in between.

Face/Off is one from the testosterone-sozzled side of Cage’s CV, but even that description doesn’t do the film justice. The charm, smarts, visual style and personality are all given some very sharp and shiny edges by the faultless cinematic eye of John Woo.

The pairing of Cage and Travolta is a dream, both of them oozing so much charisma they not only must have had a great time making the film, it’s almost a romantic comedy for all the electricity they generate.

Strait-laced and emotionally wounded FBI agent Sean Archer (Travolta) has finally caught up with the mastermind criminal who killed his son, Castor Troy (Cage).

The capture puts Troy in a coma, and there’s a bomb ticking somewhere that only Troy and twin brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) know about. Archer undergoes a radical medical procedure that will graft Troy’s face onto his own so he can go undercover in lockup with Troy’s brother and get the location of the bomb out of him.

Meanwhile, Troy wakes up, forces the surgeons to put Archer’s face on him, kills everyone who knows anything about the switch, and assumes Archer’s identity.

Yes, it’s a ridiculous premise, but the shot where Troy (now posing as Archer) steps out from behind the door and the real Archer realises he’s trapped in prison with no proof of who he is and wearing the face of a criminal clinches the whole thing in one buttock-clenching realisation of doom. When directors always crap about it being about the emotional journey of the characters, the desperation of being in Archer’s position from then on is exactly what they mean.

So he not only has to stage a dramatic escape from a maximum security prison built in the bowels of an oil rig, he then has to hunt down Archer, get his face and family back and put things right.

The action and thrills are so breakneck and over the top the far-fetched premise doesn’t even occur to you until later. Together with Woo’s engaging direction (which manages to be beautiful despite so often appearing in the action genre), it’s gold filmmaking.

It was also the last time Woo really impressed. His next big thing was the Mission Impossible sequel that managed to be an aborted parody of both action and the city of Sydney, and he looked the same as every other lazy studio hack in Paycheck.


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