- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
fter directing some of the best action films of the late 80s and early 90s, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling for John Woo. Unfortunately, the Hong Kong director got off to a disappointing start with B-movie fare like “Hard Target” and “Broken Arrow,” and it looked like he might never recapture the magic he showcased in his earlier films. Forced to prove that he had what it took to make it in Hollywood, Woo finally found his groove with the 1997 hit, “Face/Off” – high-concept action film that, if nothing else, served as his very own homage to himself.
John Travolta stars as Sean Archer, an FBI agent who's spent the last six years tracking down domestic terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), the criminal responsible for his son's death. When Sean finally does capture him, however, he discovers that Troy and his brother, Pollux (Alessandro Nivola), have already put into motion a plan to set off a bomb in Los Angeles. With Troy believed dead, Archer does the unthinkable by agreeing to undergo a surgery that will allow him to assume his rival’s identity and trick Pollux into giving up the location of the attack. The catch is that he has to have his face removed and replaced with Troy’s, and when the latter awakes from his coma to force the doctors into performing the surgery on him, a new game of cat-and-mouse between the adversaries begins.
Much of the allure of seeing a movie like “Face/Off” comes in watching Travolta and Cage play dual roles, despite the fact that Castor Troy is easily the more appealing of the two. In fact, it’s actually quite funny to see Woo encouraging such overacting from some of the industry’s most guilty parties, but for once, it’s completely acceptable. Cage is definitely better at playing the villain, and so it’s a little strange to see him handed a majority of the good guy duty, but Travolta (reuniting with Woo for a second go-around after "Broken Arrow") is still having enough fun for the both of them. It’s just too bad that Troy’s übercool golden guns don’t get as much time to flash, because while the action set pieces are bigger than any of Woo’s previous films, they don’t make the best use of the highly stylized shootouts he’s known for.
It’s been almost 10 years since I last saw “Face/Off,” and while it still ranks as the best John Woo Hollywood film ever made, it’s not quite the action masterpiece that most remember it being. Sure, it has everything you’d expect from a Woo film – balletic gunfights, slow-motion doves and explosions galore – but it’s missing one key element that prevents it from attaining greatness: Chow Yun-Fat. Much like the director-actor team-up of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro (or perhaps more appropriately, Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio), the films that came out of Woo’s collaboration with Yun-Fat remain his best to date. Unfortunately, neither John Travolta nor Nicolas Cage could ever dream of taking that actor’s place, and though both are extremely capable in their respective roles, it’s disappointing to think how much better “Face/Off” could have been with Chow Yun-Fat somehow involved.
Special Collector's Edition Blu-Ray Review:
A virtual carbon copy of the recent DVD and HD-DVD releases, Blu-ray owners shouldn’t expect to see anything new on this single-disc effort, but will still find a decent collection of extras to mine through. Highlighting the disc is a five-part making-of featurette (“The Light and the Dark”) that covers everything from conception to stunts, while “John Woo: A Life in Pictures” is a 24-minute video autobiography by the man himself. Also included are a series of extended scenes and two audio commentaries (one with director John Woo and writers Mike Werb and Michael Colleary, and another with just the writers), the latter of which is so utterly pointless that it never should have been included in the first place.