Ah 1997.

I had two jobs.

A certainty of a roof over my head, and Judgment day was right around the corner. However before the bombs fell we were about to be treated to Director John Woo’s domestic masterpiece Face/Off!

I’ve been a follower of John Woo for a very long time, I at one time or another have owned copies on VHS or DVD all of his better known Hong Kong films. A Better Tomorrow, A Better Tomorrow 2, Once A Thief, The Killer, and his magnum opus Hard Boiled which I still own on Dragon Dynasty’s 2-Disc Set. I’m also a huge defender of the sometimes maligned Windtalkers and Broken Arrow and Mission Impossible 2 I’d throw on the dvd player at any time.

However Face/Off is the closest the John Woo ever came to his Hong Kong brand of film making one that even garnered its own term for the balletic blood soaked battles that for the life of me isn’t coming to mind at the moment. However, the story itself has a few similarities to his previous works, and the trailer certainly grabbed my attention on first viewing. Let’s check it out…then after the break we’ll discuss some of the more awesome aspects about the film.

The Plot

Sean Archer (John Travolta) is a member of a super secret counter terror unit who has been after Castor Troy (Nicholas Cage) the worlds worst terrorist for years ever since Troy killed his son. After tracking him down and keeping him on the ground, not to mention knocking him into a coma, Archer has to become Troy in order to find the location of a massive chemical bomb in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area. So after trading faces, and getting rid of some love handles, he’s off to prison to talk to his “brother” Pollux. Unfortunately Troy wakes up…and forces the scientists to turn him in Archer. Much mayhem ensues.

The Ultimate In Cool: Castor Troy

Nicholas Cage as Castor Troy…man oh man.

That said the two leads give mind blowing performances, especially once the face/off happens and they’re thrust into each other’s lives and personas. Travolta, as Troy in Archer is exceptional. Turning the reserved Archer into a glory hound, daughter leering, power abusing, awesome nutjob. In fact I LOVE that both characters get to play both the hero and the villain. Cage, as Archer in Troy is equally un-nerving. Having a whole separate mountain to climb including making out with Castors’ girl, protecting Troy’s son, and doing his best to be a total law breaking bad ass like castor Troy should be.

The supporting cast is also great with C.C.H. Pounder and Joan Allen giving excellent performances.

The film is like a rocket ship running full burn for 2 hours and 20 minutes, I am not overstating this when I say there’s never a dull moment.

The Direction/Action

The above clip is from towards the end of the film, but I could have selected just about any of the action beats and they would’ve bee just as awesome. I chose to use this scene because it was easy to find, but also because it actually has a good bit of the dramatic film making on display by John Woo also before it gets into the action.

John Woo’s Christian iconography is as usual in full effect, we have his slow motion doves, and like the end of The Killer it’s set in and around a church (though the church isn’t quite the end in (Face/Off), and we have a number of shots of Christ on the Cross, crucified for the sins of all.

As usual Johns use of slow motion is impeccable, and my gosh when I saw this scene on the big screen it was amazing. It truly was as close as Woo could get to his Hong Kong days stateside.

Honorable mentions go to the shootout in and around Castor’s Place with the amazing Somewhere Over the Rainbow useage, the opening action sequence at the airport, and of course the boat chase/dock fight at the end.

John Woo is a very strong dramatic director as well as one of the finest, if not the finest action director of modern times. He holds a position in my pantheon of action directors over and above James Cameron.

The Music

As far as I know this was John Powell’s first original score, he is a product of my favorite composer mister Hans Zimmer. As such though I knew I would undoubtedly enjoy the score to Face/Off I didn’t know exactly what it would be like. I needn’t have worried, John writes both a strong dramatic score, Archer’s Theme, that plays over key flashbacks to the death of Archer’s son is fantastic, but also propulsive action beats.

I included the above video because it was the only one I could find, and it’s a truly excellent piece.

The music is half of any films effectiveness, a good to great score can elevate a middle of the line film or even a poor film. However when you have a great film and combine it with an equally memorable score, that’s when you have cinematic gold.

The Killing

I would be remiss in this retrospective if I didn’t let you see the above montage of kills for the film, there’s some truly delicious ones in there.

For cold bloodedness I’d have to go for Castor and the lone Flight Attendant, and for sheer over the topness for Archer (as Troy playing Archer) kills Pollux Troy in the most absurd way imaginable. Thank you Mr. Woo!

In Conclusion

I really enjoyed Face/Off probably more than I should’ve, it was truly the action film of 1997, and is a worthy addition to any Action Movie Collection. You are without excuse.

Ross Out.