Face/Off (1997)

This face is my face, this face is your face

FBI Agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) is obsessed with capturing the criminal genius Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), who accidently killed Archer's son years before. Archer manages to knock Troy into a coma, capturing him, but it turns out Troy has planted a bomb, which could destroy the entire city of Los Angeles. Unable to ask Troy, due to the whole coma thing, the only other person who knows the bomb's location is Troy's brother, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola), who is no more helpful than Castor. FBI scientists hatch a plan: they have developed an experimental surgery which let's them to take Castor Troy's face and temporarily place it on Archer's head, letting the FBI place Archer into the prison Pollux is currently residing in and question him. But after the surgery, Troy regains consciousness and forces the doctors to give him Archer's face. Now the criminal mastermind has the FBI at his disposal, and the lawman is underground with few places to turn.

The plot here is hugely original, with the scientists really going far to explain how the process works exactly, whilst managing to not go too far into ridiculousness and doesn't infodump everything in a way that makes you unable to comprehend how it works. I also liked how the scientists explained that they couldn't change everything, like the height, but it does leave a bit of a niggling feeling that nobody mentions this, not even in an off-hand comment.

But of course, the film would be nothing if the two lead actors could not convincingly imitate one another to really sell the concept, and frankly, Cage and Travolta manage to pull this off so well. Cage really impresses as he seemlessly goes from gleeful maniac who's having fun with being the villian to become the uptight and conflicted FBI agent who's determination is nothing short of powerful, whilst Travolta really manages to breath life into the psychotic villian by pulling off a brilliant impression of Cage's role. And to think, it could've been Arnie VS Stallone instead.

"No, i'm supposed to be Castor" "I thought you were Archer" "No, YOU'RE Archer"

Every action scene in this film is utterly exhilarating to watch. From the opening airport fight to the final stand-off, John Woo really goes all out with these scenes, providing some of the best moments I have seen in an action film to this day. My favourite moment of the entire film is when Archer and Troy, with their faces swapped, are standing back to back with only a double-sided mirror inbetween them, and as they turn around they are confronted with the face of their enemy, which is also their current reflection, and both fire, shattering the reflection whilst trying to hit their enemy.

But this movie doesn't just show off Woo's action sequences, as it also manages to add an emotional factor with Archer's obsession over Castor steming from the villian accidently killing the FBI agents son, and both actors really manage to pull off the emotion in Archer's character as he deals with this obsession whilst unintentionally dealing harm to his marriage.

Face/Off has it all. A unique high concept story, dazzling action sequences, brilliant characters, an emotional factor that doesn't feel tacked on, tremendous acting. To put it simply, this is one of the best action movies ever made.


HarleyQuinn said…
I just became aware of this film recently, and I would very much like to see it. great review!
James Rodrigues said…
@Harley it is definately worth a watch, one of the best action films i've ever seen. thanks for reading