Face/Off is a film that is utterly ridiculous and implausible, but the film relishes these fallacies, embraces them and creates a dedicated tone to telling a relatively “serious” story among it all. It of course comes as no surprise that John Woo was behind the helm of this thing, making the fun and off-the-wall plot even more bizarre by his stylized direction and choices. The idea alone is very cool, basically all boiling down to John Travolta’s FBI agent character Sean Archer switching faces with the Nicolas Cage villain Castor Troy in order to infiltrate his dependents and hopefully take him down. Troy in turn takes the face of Archer’s and a fun and interesting dichotomy is born when they’re fighting against each other as each other. Again, it’s a cool concept made all the better by the direction.
John Woo of course knows his way around an action film, and it’s no different here, getting his first real crack at a Hollywood movie completely under his control. You get all the things you want, epic fight scenes, sprawling gun battles, a speedboat chase, goddamn doves flying around Nic Cage in slo-mo, epic music, religious allusions, it’s stylized to the nth degree. While it may seem a bit bunch, or outwardly cheesy, it all works in concert, especially with the fantastic and committed roles from Cage and Travolta, nobody takes the film lightly and thus never suffers any drop in quality.
As mentioned, I think the biggest strong suit of the film are Cage and Travolta. They are game for anything, and introduce a fidelity and realism to this heightened world that draws you even further in. I was looking forward to seeing Cage ham it up as the fantastically weird villain he created, but of course the whole facial swap saw Travolta mainly taking that role. Travolta was great as a bad guy as well, but nothing like seeing Cage wild out when he can be as crazy as he wants. I think that’s the strength of this film though, and why Cage and Travolta were so perfectly cast, because both of them can expertly and believably play a crazy villain, or a pretty straight and narrow good guy, that them switching back made it seamless and enjoyable.
Everything coagulates into a really fun and entertaining movie. On the outset it seems a bit bunch, and just another sci-fi action flick that pops up on TV randomly on your sci-fi channel. And, no, it’s no high-art or anything, but it at least strives to be a bit more than your average mindless thriller. With Woo’s unique direction and the dedicated performances of Cage and Travolta, they’re all able to elevate the seemingly benign material into some of substance.