Thanks to the Chinese director John Woo who already established a very wealthy career in spectacular action movies – but ultimately decided to steer towards Hollywood – Face/off became the very first evolutionary step in making action movies greater than great.
Though Face/off is hardly his first movie in America (that honor goes to Hard Target, a movie with Belgian kick-ass leg-swinger Jean-Claude Van Damme) it’s head and shoulders above anything else he’s ever made the very best movie he’s produced in Tinseltown …
Fortunately Face/off is much more than the founder of the modern special effects-movie, it’s also a super original and top-notch entertaining blockbuster. Especially the story is absolutely monumental!
An FBI-agent decides to undergo a facial transplant surgery, so he can assume the identity of a dangerous terrorist. Why would he agree to such a folly plan? Because it’s the only way to find out the secret location to a massive bomb that will lay waste to the city of Los Angeles. But then the unthinkable happens!
The terrorist who was thought to be in a coma forever suddenly awakens and seeks revenge in the most ruthless way! He does the exact same thing – though visa versa – and takes over the identity of the FBI-agent. That means: not just his face, but his life and his entire family.
It’s the beginning of a deadly, brainteasing cat-and-mouse game …
The really fun thing about Face/off is how John Travolta and Nicolas Cage become entangled in a complicated identity crisis. They play their own characters, as usual, but they also switch places … or should I say faces?
This is a trendsetting trademark unbeknownst in the history of the modern American movie-business. I mean, let’s be honest, how many movies have you seen where the good guy becomes a criminal and the criminal becomes a sweet fatherly figure?
This wonderful face-swap provides some of the funniest nuances in the movie.
There is, for example, a scene where both men stare at opposite sides of a mirror. This one particular scene is so very well made and amazingly ingenious, because the characters do not only stare at themselves but also – and even more so! – at the face of their biggest enemy, the one person they want dead!
If you know that the script was originally penned down for Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, you may breathe a sigh of relief, as the inclusion of John Travolta and Nicolas Cage gives the movie that extra little bit of added value. The acting is much more refined, now that you have two actors who *know* how to give their roles the extra needed character depth!
Face/off isn’t just another silly popcorn waste-away, but a very cleverly produced blockbuster with real emotions and a heartfelt caring for its story & characters!
But the one person who deserves more kudos than anyone else is undoubtedly director John Woo.
The slick cinematography he uses to improve the awesomeness of his movie goes to show this is a man who’s earned his stripes as a director of action movies. Especially the slow-motion moments are sugar-coated with great vision!
There’s the classic John Woo image of flying pigeons who fill up the screen with their flapping wings.
The rinkle-tinkle of falling bullet casings on the ground.
The bad guys who fire their guns mid-air in a backbone-breaking nosedive
of course the great classic of all (which was also frequently displayed in The Matrix): the long black coats that wave around in the wind in super-slow motion whenever the cool hero or bad guy makes his entrance, usually at the same time showing off his weapons.
Face/off also has regular action sequences like the ones they used to make in the old days, instead of all that flashy, state-of-the-art eye-candy.
For example: there’s a motorboat exploding onto the water. Steel-hard, up close & personal fist fights between both leading stars. Mexican stand-off scenes that erupt in amazing shoot-outs with more bullets flying around your ears than a Texas barbecue wedding ceremony.
And all of that wonderful fictitious violence is submerged in a boiling water-pool of stupefying cinematography that simply asks you to slide down in your chair … and enjoy one of the all-time greatest American action-classics ever made!
Did you know?
Nicolas Cage and John Travolta spent two weeks together before filming to learn how to play each other. They decided on specific gestures and vocal cadences for each character that could be mimicked.
Give it to me short:
Face/off is one of the biggest and best action movies Hollywood churned out in the ’90s.
John Travolta and Nicolas Cage appear to have the time of their lives and why not? Not only do they get to experience a uniqueness in American moviemaking, meaning they switch parts – even faces so to speak! – where the good guy becomes bad and visa versa.
But they also get to play their parts supported by one heck of a story which revolves around one of the most entertaining identity crises America has ever witnessed! Everyone, including the main stars, are baffled by what has transpired and not quite sure how to go from here.
Luckily, this super-original storyline with an overload of interesting plot changes never loses focus on what’s important: story & characters. Both are overzealously entertaining and contain enough depth to entertain us from minute 1 to way beyond after the end credits roll by.
To top it all of, much like a beautiful cake has a yummy topping, Face/off features some of the wildest, most staggering action sequences you will ever see in a modern action blockbuster! There’s explosions, shooting duels and fist fights!
There may more expensive and bigger blockbusters out there and probably much more to come in the near future, but Face/off will always be known as a genre-defining pioneer in setting up the basics of the modern action movie. To say this movie is important or even great, is to minimize the sheer awesomeness of its never-ending entertainment value!
Director John Woo may not be very active anymore these days … but he will always be remembered and loved for what is easily his single greatest cinematography achievement on American soil! This is a masterclass monument of high-class Hollywood filmmaking!
If you don’t love this movie – and you claim to love action – it’s enough for me to rip your face … off!!