- Rated: HOT HOT HOT!
Face/ Off is tremendously good fun! The premise - that two opposites
exchange identities - is a theme that has been explored before in film
and literature. The Prisoner of Zenda, The Prince and the Pauper, The
Dark Mirror, Moon Over Parador, Dave and many others. But in this film
the two enemies actually trade faces - surgically - and you get to see
the operation! It is both squirmingly delicious, and utterly ludicrous.
But for once, a ludicrous plot doesn't get in the way of the fun.
In fact, the way the director - master of Hong Kong action flicks John
Woo - handles the complicated set-up reminds me of some of the great
directors of the golden years of Hollywood - Howard Hawks, for one.
Hawks was always more interested in the relationships between the
characters in his movies, and in pursuing his perennial themes of
professionalism and camaraderie, than he was in pure plot and
narrative. So he'd set up a scene in 5 minutes or even less time, and
then move on to explore his obsessions.
Woo does the same thing here. After a few minutes we can put behind us
the whole crazy idea of the two face-swapping operations, and all the
nutty assumptions that go along with that. Then we can move on to
enjoying the action, the inter-action between the fabulous pairing of
John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, and the mayhem and madness of the
stunts and special effects. And - even more stunningly - we can check
out where Woo places his cameras to capture all these explosions and
stunts on film.
He does this magnificently, and beautifully. Woo is a genre-director at
the very peak of his form. It is hard to imagine how he will top this
film, which, to me, seems the very apotheosis of the action-pic form.
Woo loves breaking glass and flying sparks, and they look ravishing in
this film. The two lead actors relish the opportunity to imitate each
other and they send each other up rotten. Marvel as Nic Cage goes all
moon-eyed and soft as Travolta! Gasp in awe as Travolta jerks and
wriggles and goes all dark and inscrutable as Cage! Watch as both leap
all over the place avoiding each others' gunfire. Woo has chosen two
superbly physical actors here (remember Travolta was a dancer) and it
they work together beautifully.
Woo is in fact re-exploring themes he has explored in previous films -
The Killer in particular. He loves the idea of equals-but-opposites
confronting each other. In The Killer, the professional killer and the
cop go head-to-head against each other and do in fact "face off" with
guns pointed directly at each other. There is a final chase in speed
boats and a final confrontation in a chapel (with doves, no less).
Having seen that film, my appetite for Face/Off was only heightened. I
was not disappointed.
In fact, on leaving the cinema, I felt elated. This is a real movie.