Director: John Woo
Genre: Action/Adventure, Thriller
Cast: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Alessandro Nivola, Gina Gershon
Box Office: $51,520,300 (USA) in rentals.
Trivia: The studio wanted ‘Woo, John’ to take the slash out of the title, but he kept it in so people wouldn’t think it was a hockey movie.
Memorable Quotes:
[after waking from his coma and watching a video of his surgery]
Castor Troy: Hello, Doctor. I hope you don’t mind: I took a few of your groovy painkillers. I’m just enjoying some of your greatest hits here. Oh God, this is excellent. Oh, bravo. Bra-****ing-vo.
Castor Troy: You’re not the only one in the family with the brains.
Pollux Troy: No, although now I am the only one with the looks.
Castor Troy: Touché.
Sean Archer: When we put this thing away, you can brand the 4th amendment on my butt.
Sean Archer: We are a covert anti-terrorist team that is so secret, when we snap our fingers NOTHING HAPPENS.
Castor Troy: Isn’t this religious, ah yes. The eternal battle between good and evil, saint and sinners… but you are still not having fun.

John Woo’s Face/Off contains the usual insane levels of gunfire and melodrama. Like all of Woo’s films, they are simultaneously ultra-violent and anti-violent. He shows what really happens when violence occurs, not what movies generally do. And like all his other films, the violence — effective and well choreographed in its own right — becomes a distraction from the plot. The violence numbs the mind as much as the plot engages it. It’s exciting, non-stop entertainment, sure, but with it comes a price. Foremost on my mind is, does Woo’s anti-violence message really work? I really don’t think so. What is shocking and upsetting today is glorified and cherished tomorrow. The sorrowful effects of violence seen in Face/Off and Woo’s other work, are not sufficiently discernible from the purposeless sad melodrama in inferior films with less to say.

Lest I emphasize this point too much, I must stop myself and state that Face/Off is actually a very fine film. It’s violence may not do what Woo wanted it to, but those in the audience with the stomachs to handle it should find it tense and exciting. But the real reason to see the film is for its story, and the two greatly successful and charismatic leads that pull it off. John Travolta plays the good guy. Nicolas Cage plays the bad guy. Each are after the other. The catch is that, through plot developments I will not explain (suffice it to say they pull this unlikely scenario off in a reasonably believable fashion), they swap faces and identities. The good guy ends up being the one in jail, and the bad guy hoops it up living the good guy’s life, both at home and in the office. The irony is that Travolta and Cage each play both characters — keeping this in mind, many scenes take on a deeper level of meaning. And it is pleasantly surprising how much intelligence there is stemming off from this essentially ludicrous premise.

The stars have a blast with their roles, and it is they who make the film as enjoyable as it is. It is Woo’s best American work and possibly his best ever.

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