Director: John Woo
Stars: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Gina Gershon, Dominique Swain, Nick Cassavetes, Colm Feore, Colm Feore, John Carroll Lynch
Review by Matthew Toffolo
A revolutionary medical technique allows an undercover agent to take the physical appearance of a major criminal and infiltrate his organization.
There is a creepy feeling when watching Face/Off. The main theme of this action packed drama is about dealing with loss and death as Travolta’s character is having an extremely difficult time getting over the murder of his son. Of course fiction became truth later on as Travolta lost a son in real life. So when you’re watching these scenes you can’t help but feel for the real life actor who is crying on screen for his son’s loss, even though it hadn’t happened yet.
I remember when this film came out in 1997 and how much I enjoyed it as a 20 year old kid. My friend Wes Berger and I were what you call teenage idealistic film buffs as we used to go to the movies weekly and see as many foreign and independent movies as we could living in the Niagara Region. To some we were also film snobs, looking down on all of the shoot em up blockbusters that were beginning to hit its peak. But we weren’t ashamed to admit that we both liked Face/Off enormously because it seemed to have a nice psychological edge to it while filled with incredibly unrealistic but exciting action moments.
This was also the time when both Travolta and Cage were at their peaks professionally. Cage in particular was coming off his Oscar win for Leaving Las Vegas as was considered one of the best actors on the planet. That comment seems kind of silly in present day, as Cage is considered kind of a hack, as he continues to do about 3-4 poor films a year. In 1997 Cage had his whole career ahead of him and was in considerable demand in Hollywood. So having Travolta and Cage in this action romp in 1997 caused a lot of attention for me and my friendly film snobs. Perhaps John Woo’s film was more than just blow em up!
There are some interesting moments in Face/Off as Woo sure is a fine director who makes a lot of unique choices to heighten the excitement and emotions in the film. The only thing I remember talking about with people afterwards was the key question – Was Cage better at playing Travolta? Or was Travolta better at playing Cage?
Questions like this is what 20 year olds growing up in the Tarantino generation discuss. Even though in hindsight these are wasted conversations, at the time I do remember having fun with it. My friend Wes was on team Cage as I was on team Travolta. And the circle talk of meaninglessness began for hours on end. Both actors really chew up the scene as they seem to be acting in a strange land of over-the-top-ness while the other actors around them are grounded in reality. The performance of Travolta’s wife (who became Cage’s wife but was actually Travolta – it was confusing!) in particular stands out. Joan Allen pulls off a fantastic performance in the film without anyone really realising it. I remember even at age 20 how pulled in I was by her character. Perhaps today that role would of went to some 30s supermodel who would only be capable of just playing the beats in the script and nothing more.
Face/Off is a fun film even today as I really was impressed how much it stands up. That same year Cage acted in another action film, Con Air, that really doesn’t stand up at all and is almost laughable in its action executions to today’s 21st century world.That says a lot about John Woo. In Face/Off, Woo directs all of the action sequences with the emotions of the character’s angst and inner conflicts. So when Travolta for example is involved in a boat chase with Cage, we as the audience are hooked in because we just previously saw a scene of his struggles to survive the pains of his son’s death. So there is context in the action without just having the action. So his films hold up generation after generation because we feel while the guns are a blazing across the screen.