Paramount // 1997 // 140 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 23rd, 2008
In order to trap him, he must become him.
One of Paramount's first Blu-ray releases since the demise of HD DVD, Face/Off proves to be an excellent way to get back in the game.
For FBI Super-Agent Sean Archer (John Travolta, Battlefield Earth), there is only one thing of importance in his life: tracking down and smiting his arch-nemesis, Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage, National Treasure), the most dangerous terrorist-for-hire on the planet.
What drives this rivalry? Castor popped Sean's son during an assassination attempt, leaving a blood feud in its wake, along with a mountain of bullet-riddled corpses. Archer will get his chance to distribute comeuppance aplenty when he signs up for a ridiculous surgical procedure that will literally turn him into his worst enemy. Shockingly, this plan goes horribly awry and the two enemies will wage war in each other's bodies and dozens of bystanders will be shot to death and doves will fly in slow-motion.
Face/Off kicks so much ass. It's a hyper-violent, hard-R, red meat action movie, the likes of which are rarely seen coming out of Hollywood these days. This is easily John Woo's best outing in American cinemas, though, admittedly, that's not saying a lot when you look at a filmography that includes Hard Target and Windtalkers and Mission Impossible 2. If any Yankee effort deserves to be mentioned in the same breath of Woo's Hong Kong classics, it's Face/Off.
This is a film that opens with an action sequence that would cap off most other action movies. The high-octane airplane chase and frantic hangar shootout sets the tone immediately, and that tone is BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! KA-BLOOIE! There are four major set-pieces here, each one besting the one prior in terms of body count, mayhem and stunts, culminating in the legendary speedboat chase finale, one of the finer action denouements ever.
Holding all this well-orchestrated havoc together -- and because it's a John Woo film, you know it will be well-orchestrated, ballet-like with slow-mo leaps through the air and dual-wielded handguns -- are Travolta and Cage's performances, so awesome and over-the-top. These guys are essentially trying to one-up each other during the whole runtime, aping each other's mannerisms and physical quirks, double-dog-daring themselves to bring the juice to the next scene in a bigger way than the one before it.
As great a time Face/Off is, it's about as grounded in reality as that dream I had last night about a rapping unicorn. There are plot holes you could fly a Star Destroyer through -- the voice chip implanted during the surgery that's supposedly easy to dislodge yet withstands repeated throat trauma and explosions; the surgeon's willingness to make sure Castor's transformation is perfectly executed, even though he surely knows the level of death and destruction that will be reigned down shortly thereafter; the FBI's willingness to kill indiscriminately and without a warrant; the sheer durability of the two lead characters, getting shot, stabbed and thrown hundreds of feet into the air following a speedboat crash. Small potatoes, though, compared to the net level of entertainment provided.
Face/Off looks great in high-def, sporting a clean, upgraded 2.35:1 widescreen picture that brings Woo's action masterpiece to life. This is a bright film, with much of the happenings going down in the daylight and the enhanced clarity goes a long way in giving these sequences pop. Thankfully, when the action shifts to the dark, the black levels are solid and details remain strong. The airplane and speedboat chases, which bracket the film, are exceptional and worthy of spooling up to blow away your friends. The audio (6.1 DTS ES and Dolby Digital 5.1 EX) is loud and aggressive, though a lack of lossless mixes will disappoint audiophiles.
The extras are great: two interesting commentary tracks, one with Woo and the writers and the other with just the writers; a fantastic, robust making-of documentary (HD); seven deleted scenes including a goofy alternative ending (HD); and a featurette on John Woo (HD).
I have a deep and abiding love for this movie. Its Blu incarnation looks and sounds superb and is worth a gander.
Not guilty. Open fire.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 140 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Making-of Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* John Woo Featurette
* DVD Verdict Review - Special Collector's Edition