1997, R, 140 min. Directed by John Woo. Starring John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Gina Gershon, Alessandro Nivola, Dominique Swain, Nick Cassavetes, Harve Presnell.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 4, 1997
A grand return to form for modern cinema's most exciting action director, Face/Off is the film Woo fans have been waiting for since the director arrived on our shores after leaving his native Hong Kong four years ago. Although the original script was conceived as a futuristic science fiction thriller, when Woo came onboard he jettisoned about 95% of the script's more outré trappings in favor of a modern-day setting with just a few improbabilities left over. No matter. Face/Off works like a charm right on down the line thanks to brilliant, exhilarating performances from Cage and Travolta, and the many tremendously enjoyable action set-pieces that are Woo's hallmark. Travolta plays FBI agent Sean Archer, a man haunted by the death several years ago of his young son, who was accidentally shot by terrorist-for-hire Castor Troy (Cage). Since then, Archer has been tracking Troy relentlessly, and when he finally gets his man (putting him in a coma in the process), the nightmare seems to be at an end. The only problem that remains is the biological weapon that Troy and his deranged, genius brother Pollux (Nivola) planted somewhere in downtown San Francisco before their capture. To uncover the location of the doomsday device, Archer undergoes a radical new surgery technique to graft Castor Troy's face onto his own, thereby allowing him to get close to brother Pollux in prison and trick him into giving up the necessary information. The procedure works masterfully, and now Archer, for all intents and purposes, is his most hated enemy. Unfortunately, while he's in lock-up picking Pollux's brain, the real Castor Troy wakes up from his coma, steals Archer's face, and murders everyone who knows the truth about the FBI's high-tech switcheroo, leaving Archer stuck in prison while Troy is free to grant his brother a pardon, infiltrate the FBI, and get it on with Archer's wife Eve (Allen). All this may sound a bit confusing, but with Woo at the helm, it's a wild roller coaster of mixed identities and passionate violence. And it's a joy to watch Cage play Travolta and vice versa. Far and away the best of summer action films thus far, Face/Off whips along like liquid mercury, filled with sly, dark wit and some of the most exciting action set-pieces to have come out of Hollywood in years. No one alive on the face of the planet can direct gunplay like John Woo, and Face/Off is a veritable showcase for the man's talents, combining rapid-fire editing with 10,000 rounds of pure cordite-scented adrenaline. Add to that the stunningly over-the-top performances of both Cage and Travolta, and you have not only classic John Woo but also the most entertaining film of the summer, a brilliantly conceived actioner that takes everything and everyone involved with it to the next awesome level.