Face/Off (1997)

In order to catch him, he must become him.

An antiterrorism agent goes under the knife to acquire the likeness of a terrorist and gather details about a bombing plot. When the terrorist escapes custody, he undergoes surgery to look like the agent so he can get close to the agent's family.

It's like looking in a mirror, only, not.
There's a tendency to undervalue the action movie. Certainly there's a wide expanse of land in cinema world where film fans reside, where the thought of praising an action film for being "classic" cinema is considered treason against the very word. Yet some of the artistry involved in the genre's leading lights is purely sublime, regardless of how bizarre and unlikely the plot is. Enter John Woo's berserker, ear splitting, high octane actioner, Face/Off. Rightly sitting along side the likes of Die Hard and Predator as genre pieces that showcase how good things can be when it all comes together, Woo's movie is as much fun as you could wish to have for over two hours of explosive, fantastical, unadulterated cinema.
The plot sees John Travolta's serious family man cop, Sean Archer, devote his life to catching unbalanced maniacal bad guy Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage). There's some bad history between the two and when Archer manages to capture both Troy and his equally vile brother, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola), it would seem to be closure for Archer and his family. However, it's found that the Troy's have left a ticking bomb somewhere in Los Angeles, and if undetected it will flatten L.A. and kill practically everyone. So, Archer undergoes a revolutionary face-swapping procedure with the now comatose Castor and sets about getting the information from the incarcerated Pollux. But wait!, Castor wakes up and turns the tables by assuming Archer's identity, setting the wheels in motion for each man to live the others life until the Face/Off between the pair will decide their respective fate.
Unbelievable? Of course. Who cares? Well nobody should really, because surely going into a film like this one is expecting the ludicrous. Both Cage and Travolta are superbly realising the spectacular nature of the script, and being mesmerising in the duality of the roles into the bargain. Make no bones about it, Woo and his team have crafted a benchmark action movie. There's a trail of thought that suggests that Woo basically keeps making the same movie, that's a fair enough point, sure enough, all of his staple action sequences and traits are evident in Face/Off. Yet Woo has delved into his characters, given them some flesh on their action bones, and then upped the anti in action set pieces to cloak them in chaotic beauty. From the opening Jet escape/pursuit set up, to the outrageous speed boat finale, the film is one long exhilarating breath taker. Joan Allen, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain & Nick Cassavetes all file into the background playing important characters who are rightly secondary to the protagonists, while a ream of extras come and go as each are dispatched in a hail of Woo inspired carnage. The pace never sags and the eyes and ears are treated to a vibrancy that is often sadly missing from many other big budgeted action blockbusters.
This is a masterpiece of action cinema, so even as a Orson Welles crane shot is a magnificent thing, so it be with the sight of two stunt men flailing thru the air in a spray of exploding water. Oh yes sir, this is a classic alright. 10/10

Krane Entertainment, Paramount, Permut Presentations, WCG Entertainment Productions, Touchstone Pictures, Douglas/Reuther Productions by John Woo, Mike Werb, Michael Colleary.
Stars: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola.

Genres: Action, Crime, Sci-Fi, Thriller

Keywords: undercover mexican standoff fbi biological weapon face transplant rage and hate fistfight hostility revenge deception prison escape flashback tragedy shootout hospital boat chase los angeles, california explosion criminal gang golden gun arch villain bullet ballet

06/27/1997

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