Thank God for John Woo, the best action director in the world. He’s the man who brings poetry to violence and who films shoot-outs like ballets. John Woo doesn’t do dumb macho action movies. Sure, he directs some huge, wild and violent action scenes. Only, there’s soul in his work. In movies like “Face/Off”, you care about the characters, you live with them. This film is filled with emotion, and the story and the characters are even more important than the guns.
The plot is fantastic. It starts out like an archetypal Woo flick. You’ve got Sean Archer, FBI agent, and his nemesis, Castor Troy, an international terrorist. It’s the battle between good and evil. The plot thickens when, in order to find a hidden bomb, Archer has to put on Troy’s face, go into prison and get information from Pollux, Castor’s brother. Unfortunately, the real Troy wakes up, faceless, takes Archer’s face and destroys all evidence of the operation. So you’ve got Archer, the good guy, in prison, and Troy, the terrorist, in the place of the respected FBI agent. That totally original (if way, way over the top) storyline leads to many exciting twists. Troy uses Swat teams and cops to kill Archer, while Archer befriends Troy’s crooked friends. The screenplay is inventive, and sometimes very funny.
The characters are well written and also extremely well played by a top notch cast, led by Nicolas Cage and John Travolta. In the beginning, Travolta is Archer. He’s real, touching. Then, he becomes Troy and he’s totally wacked-out in this role. He’s really having fun. Cage is even better as Troy. He’s one of the coolest action stars because he acts like no one else. Here, he plays terrorist Castor Troy like some lunatic Liberace. He’s dressed cool, with sunglasses and golden guns, and he acts like a madman. When Cage becomes Archer, he’s riveting; you can see his character’s pain in his eyes, but then since Archer is pretending to be Troy, he’s all kinds of wacky and mad as well.
But to me, the real star of the film is John Woo. His filmmaking is brilliant. His unique camerawork is dazzling and he handles every scene masterfully. Every scene is great, and many are downright amazing: the melodramatic opening, the many Mexican standoffs, Cage, faceless, casually smoking a cigarette… In fact, I could mention 50 great moments at least. I’ll only highlight the church scene, a very impressive sequence. The cinematography is fabulous, it’s action-packed but it’s also full of smart dialogue and twists involving the characters.
After that, we get the explosive climax. Some critics thought there were too much chases near the end. They’re wrong! The finale of “Face/Off” is one of the greatest action scenes ever. The final fight between Archer and Troy is as intense as it gets, and “Face/Off” is one of the best action films I’ve ever seen.